Human trafficking has been a pressing issue for many years, which has captured the attention of international organizations in many countries aiming to “modern slavery”. On June 18th - June 22nd, 2019, the San Antonio Council for International Visitors welcomed eleven international visitors for an IVLP regional program entitled “Combating Trafficking in Persons." The visitors represented Latin American countries including Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.
On Wednesday morning, our visitors met with a representative of the American Association of University of Woman (AAUW) - Younger Women’s Task Force (YWTF), where they learnt about the movement dedicated to organizing younger women and their allies to act on issues that matter most. Both international visitors and the representative of AAUW agreed that the work should start as early as possible to prevent cases of trafficking. Participants shared about their work in their home countries. It was clear in the discussion that there were more quesions than answers in the process of combating not only human trafficking but sex trafficking, labour trafficking, and child trafficking as well.
Their next meeting was with a reporter from the San Antonio Express-News for a Labor Trafficking Case Study. Mr. Luke Whyte shared more about the process of how human trafficking cases are investigated and reported and how media’s efforts help raise awareness of this issue. As a Data Editor for the paper, he presented his experience of data collecting and investigating labor trafficking for the last year in South Texas.
After lunch, the group met with the Immigration Liaison from the Office of the City Manager of the City of San Antonio. At the meeting, they discussed the work that was established with the community, stakeholder groups, nonprofit organizations, and interfaith organizations as a strong network to coordinate and connect San Antonio’s immigrant community to services. Representatives talked about the new Migrant Resource Center, which began in March, assisting thousands of migrants from Central America and Africa, travelling through San Antonio to their sponsor families across the country
Later on Wednesday afternoon, they continued their discussion at a meeting with Criminal District Attorney of the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office. The attorney shared her experience in working with the DA-lead Bexar County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. Our guests learned of the attorney’s perspectives on migrants’ vulnerability in being trafficked, and the kinds of outreach, awareness-raising, and support services that they provide to victims who are reluctant to ask for help because of their immigration status. Our guests heard real-life stories and examples of how to get the best from engaging different organizations and federal agencies.
On Thursday morning, the visitors met with the Alamo Area Coalition Against Trafficking. This meeting helped our guest see the work of multi-agency, multi-disciplinary Coalition which aims to eradicate human trafficking from Bexar County and the surrounding area by prosecuting offenders, preventing future exploration and serving current victims of human trafficking. At this meeting, IVLP guests learnt, as well as shared, their anti-human trafficking experiences. Meeting representatives of AACAT was an opportunity to inspire and network with each other in the fight against human trafficking.
Thursday afternoon our guests spent at the historical sights of San Antonio and walked along the riverwalk learning more about the cultural side of our city. This time was good to recuperate for the trip to Laredo and meetings on Friday.
On Friday morning, the IVLP guests left for Laredo meetings. In the morning, they visited the US Department of Homeland Security’s ICE Rio Grande Detention Center, where they toured the detention center where illegal immigrants are held. The discussion continued in the office of ICE where our visitors were amazed at the level of importance the U.S government attached to ending human trafficking. They saw a government that has demonstrated a strong political will to combating human trafficking, and stimulating virtually all the federal agencies and community organizations to take strategic actions against human trafficking through collaboration.
Next, at a meeting with Casa de Misericordia they noticed that the willingness and hard work of every entity to combat human trafficking at the border were demonstrated in many obvious ways and programs. Our visitors explored their facilities and learnt how they were rehabilitating survivors. The representative of the shelter for victims of domestic violence and survivors also shared a toolkit the organization received from a team of researchers to better prepare for helping victims of trafficking. This meeting helped our guests see the reality that exists at the border, which urged participants to forge valuable networks for the mutual task of ending human trafficking.
The last meeting on Friday was with the representatives of Texas Riogrande Legal Aid. This non-profit organization welcomed our guests and shared their work in aiding immigrants and victims of human trafficking, specifically those who come through the valley.
San Antonio Council for International Visitors was honored to host international visitors from Latin America to bring awareness and create a platform to discuss this spreading plague of trafficking in persons in our community and around the world. We hope these meetings helped neighboring countries examine U.S. local, national, and international efforts to combat human trafficking. Moreover, it was inspiring to see so many participants and local active representatives dedication to anti-trafficking efforts: these exchanges will help them connect and work together towards new solutions and ways to help end modern slavery at home and worldwide.