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How has the pandemic affected human trafficking at the border?

Homeland Security Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown investigates human trafficking and human smuggling.
Posted at 12:57 PM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 15:57:41-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — As the fight against the coronavirus continues, so does the battle against human trafficking at the border. It’s Homeland Security Special Agent in Charge Scott Brown’s job to stop it. Brown is part of a team that of investigators who work to keep traffickers from preying on victims.

According to Brown, online solicitation is still one of the primary tactics for traffickers.

"Trafficking is not limited to migrants -- anyone can be a victim of trafficking," he said. "What we found is the pandemic initially had some deterrent effect. People being afraid particularly being in the area of sex trafficking to take those enhanced risks due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, people's appetite for elicit behavior and willingness to victimize quickly came back,” Brown said.

Brown also says there’s a misconception about human smuggling and human trafficking that should be clarified.

"Human trafficking and human smuggling are two distinctly different crimes," Brown said. "People can be smuggled for the purpose to be trafficked. Smuggling is a crime of transportation and illicitly crossing the border. Trafficking is a crime of forced fraud and coercion for labor or for sex. Smuggled migrants tend to be some of the most vulnerable people in our society. They don't have the social networks; they don’t have the resources. Often times there’s a language barrier. They’re afraid of law enforcement, in many ways based on experiences in their home country and their perceptions about U.S. law enforcement including immigration authorities."

There are also some dark and shocking realities that fester in the multi-billion-dollar illegal business including parents abusing and selling their own kids or other relatives doing the same thing, but there are some telltale signs especially if you see a group in a van or RV.

"Some of the things are being afraid to speak for themselves, traveling with people that don’t make sense that they’re traveling with, providing what are clearly rehearsed stories that don’t match the circumstances, subservient behavior not holding their own travel documents,” Brown said.

Officials say victims can be of any age or gender and the crime typically goes unreported because of shame and stigma along with the bonds that victims form with their captors who are skilled at controlling them while monitoring their every move.

“Unfortunately, from infants literally months old all the way up to senior citizens do get trafficked. We have seen people get brutalized while being trafficked” Brown said.

Once victims are saved, that’s just the beginning as they move on to a new life and start the long road to recovery and wellness.

"We always try to offer them services. Within my staff I do have a full-time victim assistance specialist who is helping to figure out what resources they need and then talking to the nongovernmental agencies and faith-based organizations to make sure that we can align the available resources to what their needs are,” Brown said.

Click here for more information on trafficking from the Department of Homeland Security.