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City to form task force to crack down on sex, labor trafficking

Published: Oct. 15, 2015 at 12:18 AM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:23 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Tucson police officials will be teaming up with CODAC Behavioral Health Services of Pima County and other agencies to form a human trafficking task force.

Human trafficking includes sex trafficking and labor trafficking, according to an official with the Tucson Police Department.

The goal is to crack down on those engaging in illegal behavior.

Thousands of migrant workers in the Tucson community are put to work at restaurants, hotels, and in the labor industry for wages that are less than the minimum.

They work long hours, and often get no benefits.

According to a 52-page study released by the Bacon Immigration Law and Policy Program, and the Southwest Institute for Research on Women, many migrant women are forced to work in conditions that are sub par, where they are often facing some type of work abuse, or exploited by their employers.

The Immigrant Worker's project has been a haven for these victims of labor trafficking.

Volunteers and staff have helped many migrant workers learn their rights, and file for the money that is owed to them.

Shayna Kessler, a legal fellow with the Bacon Immigration Law and Policy Program said illegal immigrants were protected by U.S. law, and that no U.S. company or citizen could break or violate labor laws, even if they themselves had chosen to break the law by hiring undocumented residents.

Kessler added that all workers had the right to a minimum wage, the right to get overtime, workers compensation, and the right to be in a workplace free of discrimination.

Students and staff at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law ran an immigration law clinic, where they offered help and advice to those who were being exploited by employees.

Lynn Marcus, co-director of the clinic, said labor trafficking was a reality in Tucson, and they dealt with more victims than she had first imagined.

Many of these workers were brought to the U.S. without their knowledge, others got jobs, but then were told they would not be getting a paycheck.

Some even had passports withheld from them.

Many were threatened by employers, and because of their immigration status, they were afraid to contact authorities.

"Day laborers have this often, where they'll work a whole day or two days, and the employer will say well I'm not going to pay you. If you have a problem with that, go ahead and go to the police," Marcus said.

Adelina Lopez was brought to the United States when she was 5 years old.

She did not have any documentation and needed to find work.

She was hired by a lady who ran a Raspados shop. Lopez teared up as she told her story of exploitation.

"I get so frustrated sometimes. This lady said it was OK if I worked for her. I told her I'm undocumented. She said come back the next day, start working," Lopez said.

Lopez put in $900 worth of labor, but never saw a paycheck until she contacted a local advocacy group for help.

Lt. Sharon Callan with the Special Investigations division at the Tucson Police Department said when they heard about this grant, they jumped at the opportunity to apply.

"Knowing there's more out there than we're able to see or find on a daily basis with the time we had, the equipment we had," Callan said.

The Tucson Police Department will get a $750,000 cut from the grant.

Callan said they would spend the money on buying specialized equipment and training officers all over southern Arizona.

If you know a victim of sex or labor trafficking, you're urged you to contact your local authorities immediately. You can remain anonymous.

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