South Florida has become a U.S. hub for human and sex trafficking, reports The Miami Herald, further stating that officials are calling it a type of “organized crime where humans are used as products.” Authorities have chosen to highlight this escalating problem now since January is the month dedicated to Human Trafficking Awareness. The Assistant Special Agent Carmen Pino of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE, states that “[t]his is organized crime where humans are used as products. We are talking about selling a person over and over and making large sums of money.” While this is usually not a central topic of discussion for our local news agencies, and while most people would be reluctant to believe that this even occurs in our cities, Mr. Pino stresses the importance of bringing awareness to this issue because it is real and happening right under our noses. “What people need to realize is that human trafficking is happening here, it’s a big problem. It could be happening in the restaurant where you eat, at your nail salon, in your neighborhood. It’s not just something that happens in foreign countries.”
In an attempt to contain this growing problem, law enforcement and government agencies formed the South Florida Human Trafficking Task force in 2008 to monitor a wide region from Key West to Fort Pierce. That same year, ICE launched 432 investigations yielding 126 convictions for trafficking. A year later, that figure rose to a total of 566 investigations that yielded 165 convictions. While perpetrators of this heinous crime are quickly prosecuted, ICE gives victims of trafficking temporary legal immigration status called “continued presence” which allows them to get work permits and ultimately enables them to apply for a visa. In 2009, ICE authorized 447 applications for these requests and extensions for legal status.
We admire the positive results that have at the hands of ICE and other law enforcement in an effort to bring justice to the victims while simultaneously helping secure our communities and neighborhoods.