Modern-day slavery is an international crime that thrives on the most vulnerable of populations. Known today as Human Trafficking, it takes on many forms and persecutes hundreds of thousands of victims worldwide. Unlike most crimes, once the perpetrator is identified, there tends to be multiple victims at the hands of each perpetrator. The State of Florida is at the top of the list of States in which Human Trafficking is of grave concern. Agriculture and Tourism are the two largest industries in the State, both of which provide multiple opportunities for traffickers.

During the winter months, Florida’s agricultural industry is the largest vegetable and citrus producer for the Nation, bringing to the State $30 million dollars annually. In addition, in 2012, 76.8 million tourist visited the State, bring with them 57 billion dollars. The agricultural and tourism industry is advantageous to many immigrants who will do almost anything to get to Florida in order to work so that they can send money back home to their impoverished families. It is also extremely lucrative and holds many opportunities for those who exploit this vulnerable population through engaging in Human Trafficking activities.

From within the State of Florida, South Miami Dade County provides the greatest opportunity for the exploitation of human trafficking victims. The region boasts an immense immigrant population due to the twelve-month agricultural growing season and offers further opportunities for employment within the vegetable/fruit packing houses, transportation, construction and landscaping industries. In addition, tourism is highest in South Florida than anywhere else in the State. Miles and miles of luxury beaches with hotels and entertainment venues line the coast of South Florida. The immigrant population is well established in the area despite the fact that many are undocumented workers. Newly arriving immigrants, many of whom do not speak either English or Spanish (Creole or an Indian dialect), can assimilate themselves into the population of South Miami Dade County easier than they can elsewhere in Florida. These factors however, advantageous as they seem for immigrants on the whole, will often negatively impact the most vulnerable members of this community, specifically women, children and those people disassociated by language or culture. Roughly three quarters of the population is Hispanic and the majority of these people are undocumented aliens.

Within this transient population lies a subculture in which undocumented aliens acquire work, cash, services, documents, food, entertainment and even medical attention while bypassing mainstream commerce. Traffickers, who exploit the hardships suffered by this “ghost” population, find a host of opportunities in South Miami Dade County: “Coyotes,” their employers and associates, who take advantage of the immigrants’ need for transportation, food and shelter, have established smuggling routes and benefit from the blight of the urban area.

Prostitution organizations, which tend to range throughout the state, capitalize on the number of displaced single males in the region and rotate females through makeshift brothels in time with the growing seasons. One of the first Human Trafficking cases began in the State of Florida. In November 1997, the FBI and Border Patrol raided six suspected brothels. This raid resulted in the identification of a prostitution ring that operated out of trailers and involved 25- 40 young Mexican females who were moved throughout Florida and South Carolina against their will. They were illegally brought to this Country under false pretenses of an education and/or employment opportunities. This case became one of the most high profile human trafficking cases and began the process of bringing to light the plight of these victims. Today, traffickers have replaced the shanty trailers and often utilize temporary employment services in order to operate escort services which are in reality prostitution rings in the posh hotels and surrounding venues. The female escorts are often girls who have been brought here on false pretenses and are now held in bondage. Police have identified other individuals who have smuggled children from Haiti and forced them into domestic servitude. Still other organizations hold immigrants in “debt bondage,” charging excessive amounts of money to house them in decrepit or abandoned buildings without power, water or sewer systems.

In the “Everglades Reclamation Area,” an 8.5 square mile expanse of mud, weeds and solid waste slated for re-flooding, migrants are housed in deplorable conditions where they have no access to authorities, emergency services or even a telephone. This area, which has been taken over largely by the Army Corps of Engineers, is attractive to “squatters” and dangerous fugitives.

What can you do to help end this deplorable crime?

As with all criminal acts, the greatest deterrent is an educated and responsive community. Watch what occurs around you and report any suspicious activity to your local police department. It may not be anything but it also may save a life!!!

See something, Say something.