Modern slavery's Main Street: Texas' Interstate 10

AUSTIN — Texas has become a major hub for human trafficking, state officials said Monday while proposing a more aggressive response to what a senior lawmaker described as "modern-day slavery."

Nearly 20 percent of human-trafficking victims found nationwide have been in Texas, according to a report released by Attorney General Greg Abbott. The 57-page report, mandated by the Legislature in 2007, also identifies Interstate 10 as a major route through Texas for human-trafficking rings.

Abbott released the report at a news conference with Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who introduced legislation to combat the problem.

"These human traffickers are like cockroaches," she said.

Her bill, prepared for the 81st Legislature, which convenes in January, would create a task force in the attorney general’s office, start training programs for local law enforcement and implement an awareness campaign for communities. It would also improve programs for assisting victims.

Abbott, Van de Putte and other officials said human trafficking has grown into one of the nation’s top criminal enterprises. Abbott’s report, compiled from federal data, news reports and other research, said traffickers often lure victims into phony moneymaking opportunities, then hold them in slaverylike conditions.

Many are women and children forced into "despicable sex acts," Abbott said. An estimated 14,500 to 17,000 victims are brought into the United States from Asia, Latin America and eastern Europe, but an increasing number are U.S. citizens.

"With its vast international border, large population and immense size, Texas continues to be both a destination point for human trafficking victims and a major route for the transportation of victims nationwide," the report said.

Up to 30 percent of calls to an international hot line for human-trafficking victims came from Texas, said Mandi Sheridan Kimball, a senior analyst for Children at Risk Public Policy and Law Center in Houston.

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