Human trafficking is now the world's second largest criminal enterprise behind drug dealing. Federal immigration officials were in Houston, reaching out with a message to legal or illegal immigrants who are victims of crime. The message is: there is help for you.
Richard Halverson with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says finding victims is never easy.
"The hardest part about this mission is identifying the problem. Human trafficking is an especially secretive crime, where traffickers program their victims to be fearful of law enforcement agencies. That's why we need the public's help to get the word out. As many times, these victims are hidden in plain sight. Recognizing and reporting suspected cases of human trafficking can help the victims, and bring the traffickers to justice."
The program, initiated by the Obama Administration, is called the "Blue Campaign." It's aimed at helping immigrants who came to this country under less than ideal conditions.
Scott Whelan of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, says immigrant victims need to know that they may be eligible to apply for two different kinds of visas that would allow them to stay and work legally in the United States for three years.
"The T Visa allows victims of human trafficking to remain in the United States, and assist law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of that trafficking case. The U Visa provides immigration protection to crime victims who have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse, as a result of being a victim of that crime. The U Visa also allows victims to remain in the United States and assist law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of that qualifying crime."
He says because of their status, many immigrants fear reporting abuse, so he's reaching out to local law enforcement agencies so they can let victims know that help is available.
"We walk through everything, to make law enforcement as comfortable as possible with them, and they know what they're doing when they're signing them and they feel comfortable with it, because they're the experts on those crimes that are happening in their locations. No one knows Houston better than Houston PD that's for sure. So like, we're relying on them for their expertise in the investigation and prosecute the individual and with the conviction. We can put them behind bars .for a long time."
Whelan says their sole purpose is to raise awareness with everyone, to do a better job of reaching people who are vulnerable victims.