Human Trafficking – A Statewide Epidemic

Published 10:25 am Monday, March 14, 2016

By Dade Phelan

For the first six weeks of 2016, Harris County law enforcement officials successfully conducted Operation Traveling Circus. The sting focused on individuals participating in prostitution activity in the metro area. Hundreds of arrests were made in the ongoing effort to reduce the demand for prostitutes. Unfortunately, many of these women are brought into the United States by human traffickers and forced into this heinous criminal activity. Houston has become a major hub for human trafficking due to its large size, close proximity to the border and growing immigrant population. Another prime example of this would be last weeks sentencing of 70-year-old Hortencia “Tencha” Medeles. She will serve a life sentence in federal prison for leading a major international sex trafficking ring in Houston’s East End. She operated her brothel on Telephone Road undetected for nearly twenty years. She served tens of thousands of customers annually with an unknown number of victims, mostly from Mexico and Central Mexico, most held against their will in modern day slavery.

This illicit trade is certainly occurring right here in South East Texas as well as across the state. To combat these human predators the Texas Legislature approved legislation to improve the statewide effort to fight sex trafficking. The measure will make it easier to prosecute and track offenders while providing more training and resources to aid victims. House Bill 10 faced no opposition and was carried swiftly through the lower chamber, as Gov. Greg Abbott granted it emergency status because it relation to the broader border security initiative. The bill removed a statute of limitations on the felony offense of trafficking children younger than 18. It also added the issues of the sex trafficking of minors to training and reporting requirements for officials in the education and criminal justice systems, changes designed to better identify victims who might otherwise go unnoticed or be treated as criminals. The bill also required the governor to establish a Child Sex Trafficking Prevention Unit to assist various agencies in finding a way to recover victims and provide them with both long-term and short-term housing. Finally, it would expand the power and authority of the Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force that is under the jurisdiction of the office of the Attorney General.

Also approved last session was HB House Bill 12, which codified the policies of the state’s Border Prosecution Unit. The unit was formed six years ago and consists of the counties on the state’s border with Mexico and their immediate surrounding areas. The unit, through grants provided by the governor’s office, will fund special prosecutors assigned to handle border-specific crimes. These can range from human smuggling, violent felonies, money laundering and the widespread gang activity associated with massive drug cartels. The prosecutors will operate in cooperation with the Texas Department of Public Safety and local law enforcement agencies.

State and local law enforcement will continue to fight and prosecute these unlawful activities until the guilty are brought to justice. However, it cannot be done without the public’s assistance. If you suspect someone might be a victim of be human trafficking or slavery and is in immediate danger please alert your local law enforcement agency. Do not personally intervene and allow the proper authorities to investigate. Also, please contact the National Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 to also report your concerns.

It is honor to serve the citizens of Southeast. If I may ever be of assistance, please contact me at, 512.463.0706 or 409.745.2777.

May God bless you all and may God bless Texas,

Dade Phelan is Texas House Member Representative for District 21