No one has been prosecuted under the state's 2008 human trafficking law, according to Phil Sisneros, spokesperson for the Attorney General's Office. But it's a crime he says he's sure exists. "We've long believed that the human slavery issue is one New Mexico is facing," and so do law enforcement officials and many service providers, he adds. President Obama declared January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
The first time the AG's Office tried to push this kind of law, legislators couldn't be convinced of the difference between smuggling and human trafficking. "The key issue is free will," Sisneros says. Smuggling is already a crime. But when those who’ve been smuggled in are forced to work jobs they can’t quit in order to pay for the trip, that’s slavery. They can't leave, and they can't get out of it, Sisneros adds. "Often it's in the sex industry. It's a horrible thing; the people that are involved in it, the young women, they're so afraid to tell anyone about it, they become entrenched."
Before 2008 when it became a felony, human trafficking was not recognized as a crime for most law enforcement around the state. Attorney General Gary King is working to get the word out about the law and inform citizens, law enforcement agencies and the judiciary. "It's really been a crime that's been in the shadows for so many years," Sisneros says.
It's difficult, he says, to get people to come forward about their situations because they fear retaliation against their families in Mexico or Central America. And without recourse before 2008, what was the point?
The Border Violence Division of the AG's Office has been training federal, state and local law enforcement, as well as social service providers, on understanding the law, identifying victims and conducting sensitive interviews, among other things. King is asking that this kind of training become a part of the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy curriculum.
King has released three pamphlets on human trafficking, available on his website at nmag.gov under “publications.” The literature discusses how to understand and help victims. Most don't speak English, according to the AG's Office, they may not know what city or country they're in because they're forced to move often, and many don't realize they are victims. If you think you've discovered a victim of human trafficking, call the Attorney General's Office at (505) 827-6716 or (505) 827-6042.