Mexican consulate launches anti-trafficking campaign

The staff of the Mexican Consulate in Presidio and representatives from the Border Network for Human Rights gave a presentation on human trafficking on Monday. Photo by Sam Karas.

PRESIDIO — This Sunday, the Presidio branch of the Consulate of Mexico observed World Day of Trafficking in Persons, a United Nations-led initiative to raise awareness of human trafficking and forced labor around the world. The consulate hosted presentations and distributed informational materials in its hometown community of Presidio and on the road in Midland and Odessa. 

The Corazón Azul, or “Blue Heart,” campaign teaches folks how to identify and report trafficking cases. “Victims of trafficking are deprived of their liberty and forced to perform domestic labor, agricultural work or sex work,” a campaign presentation explains. “It’s a form of modern slavery.” 

Worldwide, activists and leaders have sounded the alarm as rates of trafficking-related crimes rise and detection rates drop. Trafficking cases that make it to a courtroom have risen by more than 84% over the past decade — but less than half of victims who escape on their own decide to report their experiences to the authorities. 

The United Nations attributes some of these statistics to global migration and supply chain shifts in the wake of the pandemic. “The COVID-19 pandemic … changed the characteristics of trafficking, pushing it further underground and potentially increasing the dangers to victims by making the crime less likely to come to the attention of the authorities,” reads a report launching the 2023 international Blue Heart initiative. 

Government agencies and nonprofit organizations in Mexico have identified human trafficking as a particularly serious problem. Both Mexican citizens and migrants moving through or from Mexico into the United States are particularly vulnerable. Statistics show that the northern states of Baja California, Chihuahua and Nuevo Leon are hubs for the trafficking of individuals from Mexico into the United States. 

The Citizens’ Council for Security and Justice in Mexico City recently released their annual report on human trafficking, which found that these crimes primarily affect women and children — 50% of reported victims are minors, and 70% of them are female. 

Echoing the findings of the UN report, the Citizens’ Council found that the pandemic had pushed traffickers underground — and potentially online, where children were particularly vulnerable to exploitation. “The virtual world has distinguished itself as a risky space,” the report reads. “Strengthening digital hygiene and cybersecurity is one of the challenges of institutions in eradicating modern slavery.” 

The Consulate of Mexico serves Mexican citizens living, working and traveling in the United States. The Presidio branch’s presentations locally and in Midland-Odessa spoke to the unique needs of West Texas — namely, the risks posed to border communities and the heart of oil country. 

Alejandro Alba traveled with the Consulado Móvil (Mobile Consulate) to Midland-Odessa this past weekend, where people lining up for consular services were also given information about human trafficking — and the opportunity to ask questions. 

He was surprised by the amount of interest generated by the Corazón Azul campaign. Some Consulado Móvil attendees even shared their own experiences and those of friends and neighbors. 

Alba helped detail the consular resources available to victims of human trafficking — and those trying to help them. “Sometimes people think that if they are Mexicans in the USA, they cannot call the police or other organizations,” he said. “We explain to them that that’s not the case.”

The materials Alba distributed offered a few questions to help folks identify if they or someone they know is a victim of human trafficking: are your wages little or none? Are you free to go where you want? Are you permitted to communicate with your relatives and friends?

They also outlined some basic questions to ask before accepting work in the United States — something many consular clients are desperate for. “Find out all the details of your job, information about the company and look for references,” one pamphlet reads. “Don’t trust [an employer] if they promise you will make large amounts of money without many details.”

At the presentation in Presidio, Celia Arzaga of the Border Network for Human Rights called for widespread education and awareness around the issue, especially among migrants. “We know that human trafficking exists, but we also know that not everyone has the same opportunities to get work,” she said. “For that reason, migrants are vulnerable to becoming victims of criminal organizations.” 

She felt that working to eradicate human trafficking was right in line with her organization’s mission — to protect border residents’ liberty and humanity. “The Border Network focuses on educating the migrant community to change our society, so that it may be equitable and everyone can have the same dignity and respect,” she said.