On July 17, 2019 - July 22, 2019, SACIV hosted a group of twenty-three visitors from as many counties in San Antonio to learn about efforts to combat human trafficking. The visitors where from Bulgaria, Ghana, Grenada, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Moldova, Namibia, Nepal, Pakistan, Poland, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Togo, Uganda and Zambia. San Antonio was the third city they visited on their tour of the United States, as they had previously been to Washington D.C. and other Northern US cities. Here in San Antonio however, they were introduced to how human trafficking and smuggling were different due our proximity to the Mexican/American Border. During their weeklong visit to Texas, they met with the Alamo Area Coalition Against Trafficking, the San Antonio Police Department, Customs & Border Protection - Air and Marine Operations, Homeland Security Investigations, and even attended SACIV's “Summer Membership Mixer”.
On Tuesday, the group first met with Mr. Saul Castellano, the CEO of the Freedom Youth Project Foundation. The Freedom Youth Project Foundation works to educate parents and teens about human trafficking and how to prevent youth victimization. Freedom Youth Project was founded in 2010 and is unique in their tactics to prevent human trafficking by using an educational approach that is based on the idea that love is a major factor in trafficking. Mr. Castellano discussed how an education is a key way of combating human trafficking before it can take place. This approach helped the visitors view human trafficking from a new perspective.
After lunch, the visitors went to the San Antonio Police Department to meet with Sergeant Christopher Lutton and Mr. Robert Looney. There, the visitors learned about the Police Department and the San Antonio community and how they work side by side to combat crimes. They heard about how the city is a prime spot for trafficking to occur due to its size and proximity to the Mexican border. Sergeant Lutton and Mr. Looney also discussed how the relationship between the Department and the community is key to combating crimes in the city. The friendly relationship between Police Departments and community is rare to find today in the United States and that is what the officers attribute to the small crime rate for the city of this size. This sparked interest in the visitors as it was a new way of combating crime and is such an oddity in not only the United States but the world. After the meeting, a few visitors also went on ride-alongs to see what crime is like in the Alamo City and they we able to witness the community in a new light.
Over the weekend the Visitors also went on a day trip to Austin where they were able to see a new side of Texas compared to San Antonio. They also went on a few more ride-alongs and they were able to have a day to experience San Antonio’s culture on their own.
On their last day, the visitors met with Mr. Steven Jones from the San Antonio International Airport, Customs and Border Police Protection (CPB) Air & Marine Operations, and Mr. Charles “Chuck” Paul from Roy Maas Youth Alternatives (RMYA). Mr. Jones first gave the visitors a refresher on human trafficking and the difference between trafficking and smuggling and then discussed some of his previous cases with the visitors. The visitors took great interest in the cases since they had been looking forward to hearing about some of the experiences law enforcement had with the topic. The cases were very interesting to the visitors as they were all unique and showed some of the many ways the United States combats human trafficking. Then Mr. Paul discussed human trafficking from the victim’s perspective. Since most of the presentations the visitors had seen previously where from law enforcement’s perspective, the new way of viewing the issue was insightful and taught the visitors a more personal way of understanding trafficking.
The last meeting of the day was with Special Agent James M. Rodriguez from the Homeland Security Investigation - San Antonio Field Office. This was the first time on their trip to San Antonio that the visitors had seen how the United States federal government deals with human trafficking and smuggling in persons. The visitors enjoyed learning about HSI and how it differs from local law enforcement. They also had the opportunity to discuss how the United States law enforcement system works with regards to immigration. Agent Rodriguez also learned about the visitors countries and how they deal with immigration and smuggling in more depth. This was a great mutually beneficial learning experience for everyone involved.
The last event of the day was SACIV’s Summer Membership Mixer, which the visitors were invited as the guests of honor to attend. This was not only a great experience for the visitors, as they got to meet people from our organization, but it was a great experience for our members since they were able to meet our visitors. Our visitors enjoyed meeting members of the San Antonio community and learning more about our culture and vice versa.
The San Antonio Council for International Visitors was honored to host this amazing group of international visitors to bring a bigger discussion about the human trafficking issue in our community and in the world. We hope that this experience not only helped these countries learn new ways to alleviate the problem, but also helped the San Antonio community gain new perspectives on the crisis. This was truly a great experience for everyone involved because through collective learning, new solutions and new perspectives were not only discovered for our visitors, but for the community as well. Hopefully this visit will help combat the global and local human trafficking crisis.