RALEIGH, N.C. — State and federal officials are working together to train law enforcement and advocacy groups to battle human trafficking, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Tuesday.
Officials estimated 14,000 to 17,000 people have been brought to the United States with the promise of jobs, only to be intimidated, held against their will and forced into prostitution or debt bondage.
"We stand here today in a united front against slavery, which still exists in America," Vanessa Garza, director of the trafficking team in DHHS' Office of Refugee Resettlement, said during a news conference.
In the past year, investigators busted Durham and Raleigh brothels where they suspected women were kept as sex slaves. Detectives also raided a club with alleged ties to immigrant traffickers.
Traffickers lure victims with promises and trap them once they get to the area, authorities said.
"It's dirty, and it's dangerous, and it's nothing like what they were promised. Then, they're taken to a work site, and where they're promised regular hours, they're working obscene hours," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Exum said.
"You can have the most extreme situation where somebody has been physically abused multiple, multiple times, where they were brought here thinking they were going to be a domestic worker," immigration attorney Kaci Bishop said.
Most of the modern-day slaves won't run or report abuse because they don't speak English, and they fear retribution or arrest, experts said.
Advocates behind the rescue and recovery effort said illegal immigration breeds controversy, but they said human trafficking is different and the victims need assistance.
"There could be that sentiment that this is just another way to help immigrants. But I think, when most people learn about it and hear about it, (they) understand this is really a human rights violation," Bishop said.
State Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, has introduced a bill that would make human trafficking a felony offense and would make state assistance available to trafficking victims.