SMU: Speakers at event urge more attention to troubling issue

BY TODD ROBBERSON / The Dallas Morning News

Originally published April 11, 2007

The issues of human trafficking and slavery might seem like problems of faraway lands or a bygone era, but they are real, they are happening now, and the Dallas area is an ongoing focus of concern, according to federal law enforcement officials, prosecutors and groups dedicated to fighting it.

Speaking at an SMU symposium Tuesday, representatives of the Justice Department joined human rights leaders, a New York Times columnist and a local victim in an appeal for the public to become more involved in fighting human trafficking and modern slavery.

“For want of a general awareness, you would think this is not much of a problem here in the metroplex,” said Rick Halperin, an SMU history professor and a former chairman of the human rights group Amnesty International. “Human trafficking is a huge problem throughout the world, throughout this country and throughout this metroplex.”

With a large immigrant community representing vast segments of Latin America as well as Africa and Asia, North Texas has developed an ability to absorb and hide humans held against their will and forced into work with little or no pay and no prospect of buying their own freedom, various speakers said.

Language barriers, torture, beatings and threats of retaliation against family members back home are sufficient to prevent these victims from escaping or seeking help.

Estimates of the numbers vary widely because the business of human trafficking is so well hidden from the world. One CIA estimate suggested up to 50,000 humans are smuggled into the United States each year for forced labor or prostitution. The State Department puts the number closer to 17,000, out of about 800,000 humans being trafficked worldwide.