US Attorney Reggie Lloyd plans an increased push against human trafficking after authorities broke up a prostitution ring ran by three illegal immigrants in South Carolina.
In the past, South Carolina authorities would simply deport women in the county illegally if they were arrested for prostitution and charge the people running the ring with immigration offenses, such as falsifying documents, Lloyd said.
But that has changed, especially after the arrests last week of two men accused of smuggling a 14-year-old girl from Mexico into the U.S. and forcing her into prostitution, Lloyd said. A third man is being sought in the case.
"We don't look at them anymore as an illegal alien; we really are looking at them now as victims," Lloyd said. "Regardless of them being here illegally, they are being exploited." Lloyd said human trafficking in the state is bigger than anyone recognized.
"There is a great deal of this going on in this state," Lloyd said. "As we get better, I think you will see more of these cases brought." The human trafficking trade can be as sophisticated and lucrative as the drug trafficking business.
The people selling the women must smuggle them into the United States, help them live and take them from place to place to work as well as round up customers, Lloyd said. It can also mean big profits. In a 2005 case in Myrtle Beach, Jose Hernandez-Becerra, who was in charge of a brothel, told authorities he made $700 in one night from one prostitute, according to court documents obtained by The (Columbia) State.
That incident also shows how these cases used to be handled. One woman busted for prostitution was an illegal immigrant from Mexico. After being promised a better job in Myrtle Beach, she said she was forced to have sex for money or the leaders of the ring would kill her.
After her arrest, she spent three months in prison. Nowhere in the sworn statement leading to her arrest mentioned her forced prostitution, assistant U.S. attorney William Day said. The leaders of the prostitution ring, Martin Carbajal-Servin and Estella Aguilar-Ortiz, a husband and wife who were here illegally, pleaded guilty to enticing women into prostitution. Carbajal-Servin got two years in prison; Aguilar-Ortiz was sentenced to 11 months.
Lloyd started a human trafficking task force for South Carolina a few months after he took office in February 2006 that includes the FBI and Gov. Mark Sanford's office. "We should have been doing this a long time ago," Lloyd said. "It is a moral outrage that we haven't done anything prior to this."
South Carolina is also one of less than 10 states that have passed a law banning human trafficking. "This activity is human slavery," said Rep. Catherine Ceips, R-Beaufort, who sponsored the bill. "I hope this law will help prosecute those men to the fullest extent that they can be prosecuted."
Adapted from: "U.S. attorney plans increased push against human trafficking." Wilmington Star. 1 April 2007.
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