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Labor Trafficking Increasing in the Valley

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MCALLEN – Labor trafficking is considered modern-day slavery, forcing its victims to stay silent. If someone is forced to work, experiences fraud and is threatened, then they are victims.

A law office and non-profit organization explained more people are speaking out.

Labor traffickers see a natural disaster as a profit. Hurricane Katrina was money in their pockets.

"I paid $5,000 to come to the U.S.,” says labor trafficking survivor Daniel Castellanos.

Castellanos is from Peru. He saw this job as an opportunity. 

"I was hired to reconstruct the city to cleaning,” he says.

Castellanos came to the U.S. on H-2B Visa to work legally. When he arrived in New Orleans, his job title changed.

"They offered me this work and they send me to a hotel to work because I speak English they sent me to a front desk,” says Castellanos.

His pay changed too.

"Did you know you were going to get $6.00 an hour?" KRGV's Angelo Vargas asked. 

"No, I didn't. They offered me $15.00 an hour. It is a reason why I came,” responded Castellanos.  

Castellanos is not from Texas. Although, his story is similar to those who are survivors of labor trafficking in the Rio Grande Valley.

"We had a lot of referrals already from immigrant population agencies,” said Refugee Services of Texas Senior Programs Manager Rachel Alvarez. 

Refugee Services of Texas helps survivors of human trafficking find resources.

Alvarez explained the increase they are experiencing in the Valley. 

“Since October, we've had about 20 plus cases that we've been working with," says Alvarez. "That is a lot. We just been a few months open and usually when we started services in Austin, it was nine survivors we assisted in an entire year."

Castellanos says he left his family back home and continued to pay off his debt.

"I left my little daughter at four years old, now she's 15 years old. I lose all that time," he tells us. 

Now, he has a different job.  He's a national speaker for others who were in his position.

On Monday, Castellanos presented his story at the 13th Annual Human Trafficking Conference at South Texas College.

Alvarez explained human trafficking is so complex that it's hard to track recent numbers.

According to the Polaris Project, there were 1,249 cases reported for labor trafficking nationally.

Local attorneys' offices have taken up cases of labor trafficking.

Texas RioGrande Legal Aid paralegal Myrna Ibarra explained they are also seeing an increase of cases.

Ibarra says some of the court's proceedings can take some time to settle 

"They vary, it just depends on the situation. The last case I was working on it's been ongoing since 2013. And so you know we're barely almost at the finish line,” she says. 

Ibarra says if anyone needs more information, they can call the hotline number at 1-888-988-9996. 

LINKS: Human Trafficking Hotline

Crime Victim Assistance

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