Five years after Congress passed a law to protect victims of human trafficking from being deported, only about 800 victims have signed up for the program, reports the Houston Chronicle. Considering estimates that between 14,000 and 17,000 people are brought to the country every year to work as prostitutes or slaves, officials realize they have a problem getting the word out. “We thought maybe these victims would come forward spontaneously, but we’ve found that’s not the case,” said Steve Wagner of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Wagner is in Houston today to launch a public awareness campaign about the problems with human trafficking and the need to help victims come forward. Houston is considered a hub for human trafficking because of its location near the border and its large ethnic communities.
This week, authorities announced the arrest of eight people suspected of running a human-trafficking ring that brought young Central American women to Houston to work as prostitutes in local cantinas and bars. About 100 women, many of them possible victims, were rounded up in a series of raids related to the arrests. In another case, four Mexican nationals were indicted in September on allegations they lured Mexican women to Houston under false pretenses and then put them to work as prostitutes. Experts think that the operations mounted in recent months have exposed only a small part of the problem.