Feds come to stamp out Houston's dirty little secret - Houston weather, traffic, news | FOX 26 | MyFoxHouston

Feds come to stamp out Houston's dirty little secret

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

Slavery is not a problem from days gone by.

"Human trafficking is one of the largest money generators for criminal activity worldwide," US Citizenship and Immigration Services' Scott Whelan said.

It is happening all the time: using people as property, selling women and children as sex slaves.  Federal officials were here in Houston and are visiting other cities to put a stop to the kidnapping, the torturing, and the forcing of people to do things for money.

It is modern-day slavery and it is happening far more than you might think.

"It's one of the more heinous crimes that's out there," US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Richard Halverson said.

Sex and labor trafficking is one of the best and worst kept secrets.  We may often come in contact with victims in public and have no idea.

"Human trafficking is an especially secretive crime.  Traffickers program the victims to be fearful of law enforcement," Halverson said.

Victims are often forced to work as nannies, housekeepers, construction workers, waiters, and in other service-related positions.  They never cry out for help.

"Some people are kept behind locked doors.  Others are hidden in plain sight in restaurants, hotels, construction sites, nail salons and in our own neighborhoods," US Citizenship and Immigration Services' Sandra Heathman said.

"We all have to work at this together.  Recognizing and reporting suspected cases of human trafficking can help the victims and bring the traffickers to justice," Halverson said.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services agents came to Houston to help train local law officers how to spot victims.

They are also spreading the word to get labor and sex slaves to understand they can escape their abusers.  Help is available.  In fact, citizenship and immigration visas are available for abuse victims under the "Violence against Women Act".

"This is important because the abusers often threaten to withhold legal immigration sponsorship as a tool of abuse," Whelan said.
 
These federal agents are trying to get word to trafficking victims to trust someone, speak up and get help.

"If you suspect someone is a victim of trafficking, immediately alert law enforcement at 911," Whelan said.

The federal agents also want domestic and sex slaves to know two more important options are available to them.  Trafficking victims may qualify to stay in the country with a T-Visa.  U-Visas are available to immigrants who are victims of other crimes.

You can call the ICE hotline 24 hours a day at 866-347-2423.  If you are an immigrant wanting to escape abuse you may also call US Citizenship and Immigration Services at 1-888-3737-888.  Many services are available including citizenship assistance, as well as, counseling, financial and other aid.

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