The Texas police discovered at least 26 people who were allegedly held hostage on Thursday, which may have been part of a human trafficking operation in Houston.
The Houston area is considered a hub for human trafficking, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 50,000 people are smuggled into Texas each year from around the world. According to information from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, there are 234,000 people who have been abducted by traffickers to be used as workers in Texas “at any time”. Both the Mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, and the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, have adopted anti-trafficking and assistance programs to help people who are victims of human trafficking.
A Houston police tweet on Thursday said officers were investigating a report about “a man in underpants who was walking the streets shouting that he had been kidnapped. The person directed the officers to a house where they discovered “25 men and one woman,” many of whom claimed to be being held against their will.
The victims allegedly came from El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Cuba. A tweet from KHOU reporter Chris Costa stated that at least one person had been arrested.
“The officers simply put a person who was in handcuffs in the back seat of one of these cruisers,” Costa tweeted. “One of the victims told the officers that they knew they were coming to Houston, that they had been promised a job, but that changed when they got here. @KHOU #khou11”
The officers placed only one person, who was in handcuffs, in the back seat of one of these cruisers. One of the victims told the officers that they knew they were coming to Houston, that they were promised a job, but that changed when they got here. @KHOU #khou11 pic.twitter.com/HCqGkuwNhJ
– Chris Costa (@ChrisCostaTV) December 4, 2020
After they were removed from the residence by officials, the persons were taken to a nearby school to seek shelter. According to the KTRK, the persons were given clothing by residents of the area.
Washington Newsday contacted Mayor Turner’s office to comment.
According to the Department of Justice, there are two main classifications of human trafficking. Human trafficking involves forcing people into “involuntary servitude, serfdom, debt bondage or slavery. Sex trafficking is the practice of forcing persons, including minors, to engage in commercial sex through “violence, fraud or coercion”.
Officials in Texas have cracked down on trafficking. In June 2019, Governor Abbott signed a measure prohibiting individuals from using their property as a “hiding place” where crimes such as human trafficking or prostitution are committed.
Mayor Turner adopted the 2016 Anti-Trafficking Strategic Plan to combat the growing problem in Houston. The plan included raising social awareness of the problem and coordinating social services for victims of human trafficking. Houston Health Department employees, restaurant inspectors and people working for cab companies were trained to identify potential victims of human trafficking.
At a meeting in Houston with officials from other U.S. metropolitan areas in June, Turner said, “If we don’t work to eradicate human trafficking in all cities, in all states and around the world, you won’t win.