It takes 5 to 13 years to buy freedom.  • The Georgia Virtue

(The Center Square) – A letter held by a woman rescued from a Texas sex trafficking ring says it takes anywhere from five to 13 years to buy her freedom. Police officials have told The Center Square it may take longer if victims are sold more than once and have multiple debts.

The letter was received by The Center Square from a law enforcement officer involved in the rescue of trafficked Asian women in Rockport, Texas. Her name will not be disclosed for security reasons. Two witnesses involved in the case were beheaded in Houston, law enforcement officials say, and others fear exposing a violent, extensive criminal human trafficking ring operating out of Houston.

In that case, officers first rescued women being held in a sex trafficking operation at a Korean footbath in Victoria, Texas, where forced prostitution was taking place. They later found that the same people were being resettled and forced into prostitution in multiple places. Victoria is a few hours south of Houston; Rockport is north of Corpus Christi.

The letter, translated into English, reads: “Dearest Daughter, In the US we sometimes have something like a slave boy and slave girl. We call it indentured servant.

“A person goes to the job center to come to the US to work. This person is poor and has no money. In return, they sign the control of visas for a certain period of time. They work for 5 to 13 years to pay back. Many of these jobs are like housekeeping, farmhands, etc.

“Many women come to the United States legally from Nicaragua [with work visas] come as a contract servant. I believe possessing another person is wrong. If I thought Annie owned you or someone else until they paid back the cost of entering the United States, I would want to pay the debt.”

Annie is likely referring to the boss who controls trafficking victims, a police officer told The Center Square.

“Please forgive me, I don’t want you to think that I believe China is not a great country and a proud nation. Please forgive me,” the letter said. Chinese traffickers were implicated in the case, the police official said.

Goliad County Sheriff Roy Boyd, who worked in Victoria County law enforcement for years and thwarted criminal activity along the Highway 59 corridor, told The Center Square, “A lot of people think slavery ended after the Civil War, but slavery did is actually bigger today. It just looks different. Those who are smuggled into the country may work in hotels, but they don’t work for the hotels, they work for cartels.”

Boyd said cartel and gang agents not only hold their victims’ passports, but also monitor their movements, their forced labor and their living conditions. They control where they live and transport them to and from their jobs.

“They charge their modern slaves rent and food,” he said, “act as contractors and distribute money to the workers. Up to 15 people can stay in a one-bedroom apartment.” Those who are trafficked into forced labour, Boyd said, “may be working for one group and just as they are about to pay their debts they are transferred to another Group sold and their debt starts over.”

Young started an Operation Lone Star task force working in multiple counties to thwart criminal activity along the Highway 59 corridor that runs from the southern border to Houston. The more than 90 people being held in a Houston neighborhood home and rescued last April were traced to a smuggling ring and hideout he and his proxies discovered in Goliad County.

Texas law enforcement, working through Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, continues thwart People smuggling from the southern border. They ban smugglers, who use 18-wheelers, dump trucks, moving trucks, cars and vans, private planes and railroad cars to ferry people illegally brought into Texas, north to major Texas cities and then into the United States. The FBI has it too warned that El Paso has become a major human smuggling and trafficking destination for cartel and gang agents.

“Human smuggling involves the bringing of non-citizens into the United States through the deliberate circumvention of immigration laws, as well as the illegal transportation and housing of non-citizens who are already in the country illegally,” according to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It is “a gateway for other crimes, including illegal immigration, identity theft, document and benefits fraud, gang activity, financial fraud and terrorism.”

Abbott recently elevated the reward for anyone who provides information about hidden houses used by transnational criminal organizations. Last year, he and the state legislature elevated Penalties for people smugglers and Texas became First state to make buying sex a crime.

According to an annual report by the Texas Attorney General’s Office, “human trafficking flourished” while many criminal enterprises in Texas slowed down in 2020 because of COVID-19. In the first 11 months of 2020, the state of Texas ran more than 1.5 million unique commercial sex ads, with over 20% promoting alleged children, the report found.

Human trafficking, a separate crime from human smuggling, relies on smuggling and includes adult sex trafficking, adult labor trafficking, child sex trafficking, and child labor trafficking.

Adult sex trafficking includes trafficking in adults for commercial sex through violence, deceit, or coercion; Labor trafficking involves the trafficking of adults for work through violence, fraud or coercion. Child sex trafficking includes the trafficking of children under the age of 18 for commercial sex by any means; Labor trafficking includes the trafficking of children under the age of 18 for work through violence, fraud or coercion.

The Texas Human Trafficking Resource Center and the National Human Trafficking Hotline have released extensive resources and hotline encourages anonymous tips by calling 1-888-373-7888 or texting 233733.

By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor