WESLACO – According to the FBI, human trafficking is believed to be the third largest criminal activity in the world, and it is not taken lightly.
Officials describe it as putting a price tag on a human life. Human trafficking, whether for work or sex, can come with a life sentence.
Efren Olivares, racial and economic justice director for Texas Civil Rights Project, tells CHANNEL 5 NEWS penalties are typically very harsh.
A first offender, though, with no criminal record, may get off with spending just months in prison.
“It's still a very serious crime, especially because most times in trafficking situations, the lives of the people being trafficked are in danger,” he says. “Very often, unfortunately, people do die, because of the conditions they are being transported in or where they are housed – with very bad sanitary conditions, no food, no water, in extreme heat. The penalties are harsh to punish people for putting people's lives in danger.”
The price seems to be the motive to put another person through that suffering.
“The amounts of money that are charged for getting across are in the thousands of dollars per person,” says Olivares. “So, there's a significant monetary incentive for people to engage in those things.”
He says those who are coming into the U.S. illegally tend to be the most vulnerable to human trafficking because they are usually threatened with deportation.
Olivares adds victims can be spotted every day. He says many just do not realize that it’s happening.
“When you see someone at a restaurant who's hiding in the kitchen and doesn't want to be seen; doesn't want to come out – that's a red flag that maybe they're against their will,” he explains.
Anyone who suspects someone may be a victim of human trafficking should report it to local police or FBI.