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Mayor Appoints Blue Ribbon Committee to Address Human Trafficking

Launch of Committee Marks
September Human Trafficking Awareness Month Kick-off

August 29, 2012. Houston Mayor Annise Parker was joined by City Council members and community partners today for her announcement of a new 10-member Committee on Human Trafficking. The committee of experts is charged with devising strategies and goals for a community-based public awareness campaign to address human trafficking. The committee will work in collaboration with the Houston Police Department, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and community partners to formulate a strategic plan for engaging citizens in reporting and preventing human trafficking. The plan is to be completed in six months.

“Human trafficking is a prevalent and lucrative crime that is taking place in cities across the country, mostly obscured and hidden away from view in our daily lives,” said Mayor Parker. “As a community, we need to become more aware of this problem and informed about what we can do to help authorities put a stop to it.”

An estimated 18,000 foreign nationals are victims of human trafficking each year, according to the Rescue & Restore campaign administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Often referred to as modern-day slavery, human trafficking consists of the transport of victims, including men, women and children, for the purpose of forced labor and sexual exploitation. Major points of illegal entry into the U.S. serve as human trafficking portals. These include southern and central Texas, Southern California, Tucson, Arizona and areas of New Mexico.

The Houston area has been identified as an emerging portal for international traffickers. A major factor is Houston’s close proximity to the Texas-Mexico border, along with its port and international airport. Further, the Interstate 10 corridor, which cuts through the region, has been identified as one of the main routes for human traffickers by the U.S. Department of Justice. Also linked to the incidence of human trafficking in Houston is the region’s huge immigrant population, whose demographics can put this sector at risk for exploitation.

The Mayor’s Committee on Human Trafficking appointees are as follows:
Maria A. Trujillo (Committee Chair), MA, Executive Director, Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia
Wafa Abdin, Vice President for Immigration Legal Services, Catholic Charities Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance
Laura Boston-Perez, Director, Houston Interfaith Worker Justice
Russell Etherton, Neighborhood Centers Inc
Ed Gallagher, Deputy Criminal Chief, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Texas
Naomi Jiyoung Bang, Attorney, FosterQuan, LLP
Mandi Kimball, Director, Public Policy & Government Affairs, Children at Risk
Officer Rafael Pantoja, Houston Police Department
Jeff Watkins, Executive Director, YMCA International Services

Mayor Parker’s appointment of the Committee coincides with Houston’s Sixth Annual Human Trafficking Awareness Month slated for September. The mayor presented a City proclamation acknowledging community efforts addressing human trafficking. The month’s scheduled events include seminars, film screenings, a 5K walk/run and social gatherings at locations throughout the city. For a calendar of events, visit: www.houstonrr.org/htam-events/.

The Mayor’s Committee on Human Trafficking is an initiative of the Office of International Communities, a division of the Department of Neighborhoods. The City of Houston is a proud sponsor of Houston’s Sixth Annual Human Trafficking Month, in collaboration with community partners. For more information, visit: www.houstontv.gov/neighborhoods.

Human Trafficking National Hotline: 1-888-3737-888
To submit an anonymous tip or connect with anti-trafficking services and resources in your area, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s (NHTRC) 24-hour toll-free hotline at 1-888-3737-888. The NHTRC is not a government, law enforcement or immigration authority.

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Contact:
Evangelina Vigil
evangelina.vigil@houstontx.gov
832.393.0832

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