WACO, TX — We see them everyday, but usually have no clue victims of human trafficking owe their life, their very existence, to someone breaking a moral code and the U.S. criminal code.
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara asked for the public's help recently, pointing us all to a new website and phone hotline to anonymously report human trafficking.
Why has the Sheriff personally invested so much in stopping what amounts to modern day slavery? We don't have to look far for an answer.
A June 2018 raid at the old Vegas Buffet, provided a pretty clear example of the problem:
The nearly 20 victims told authorities, once they arrived in the U.S., they had five years to pay back the $80,000 dollar trafficking fee for getting them here. The big question was, were they destined for somewhere else?
"Trafficking is so national and international. It's hard to say we're stopping them from going anywhere else," explained Human Trafficking Investigator Joe Scaramucci.
Through big raids like Vegas Buffet... and smaller ones like a massage business a few months later, investigator Joe Scaramucci started hearing familiar themes.
The victims often regretted their decision to come to America.
Was this really the land of opportunity?
"We've had individuals from Guatemala that told us, 'I wish I'd never come here. I was chasing the American Dream, and it's actually worse, the conditions I was in, than what it was in Guatemala. I just wanna go home,'" said Scaramucci.
And many did.
Meanwhile with each raid, the mission to stop the buying and selling of people seemed to become more and more personal to Sheriff McNamara.
"We're fighting such a fierce battle against these traffickers and these low-life pimps," he said.
"Low-life pimps" a reference to prostitution, just a piece of the human trafficking puzzle that can involve almost any kind of person who does any kind of manual labor.
Why put forth such an effort to stop human trafficking? Think about it.
Sheriff McNamara, and Detective Scaramucci refer to it as "modern day slavery."
Why? listen to their description: "Ultimately, it's about exploiting people, so, it's all about money .Total exploitation, nothing but trying to get rich off the backs of other people." In other words, hook up with a trafficker... and that trafficker, or as Sheriff McNamara calls him a "low life pimp", that low life pimp "owns" you.
After creating an awareness of the problem, the Sheriff says the only way to stop it is to report it.
”So when the public gets involved, it's just that many more eyes and ears for law enforcement out there, and we appreciate that very much," explained the Sheriff.
And we have another reason to pay attention.
Investigators say any of us could fall victim to human trafficking; all races, all ages, all demographics share vulnerabilities.
And that's why the Sheriff and his deputies want to stop it.
"Trafficking is so national and international it's hard to say we're stopping them from going anywhere else. The way I like to look at it, is that it's stopping here regardless. If you come here, and you engage in trafficking of people, we will do everything we can to stop it," said Scaramucci.
Because they call America "the land of opportunity". But it shouldn't provide one to people who seek to hold others from their chance for freedom for a profit.