US authorities detained 57 migrants in Puerto Rico during a series of human smuggling incidents along the country’s west coast. The migrants being held by federal authorities stem from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Brazil. The US Customs and Border Protection officials plan to prosecute at least 19 of the migrants, five of them on human smuggling charges.
According to the Associated Press, 18 of the Haitian migrants have been repatriated and two remain detained. Border agents also repatriated 20 Dominicans and detained 17 others from Brazil in a separate case. Both groups of migrants reportedly traveled along the Mona Passage, a treacherous region between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
The Ricky Martin Foundation launched the People for Children project in 2004 to combat child trafficking and human smuggling. According to the group, there are approximately 27 million human smuggling victims worldwide. A “Trafficking in Persons” report from 2011 cited by the foundation revealed that such smuggling generates about $32 billion annually. The profits from human trafficking allegedly rival the proceeds from the illegal guns and drug trade. UNICEF estimates that 1.2 million children are sold into the sex trade and forced labor annually.
Excerpt from the “Human Trafficking in Puerto Rico: An Invisible Challenge report reads:
“Puerto Rico is a destination for sex tourism and a transit point for women and children from other Caribbean islands and from the interior of the Island for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Cases have also been reported of foreigners, both men and women, who are trafficked into Puerto Rico for labor exploitation. Besides transnational trafficking, domestic trafficking of Puerto Rican children seems to be a common occurrence in the country. Some of the activities for which minors are used include: the distribution and sale of drugs, work as drug runners, prostitution, pornography, and other illegal activities. Often the exploiter is a family member, a member of a foster family or someone in charge of the foster home. “
Although specific statistics on cases of human trafficking in Puerto Rico have not been compiled, nearly half of all families (48 percent) living in poverty and approximately 9,000 children live in foster homes. The low-income, high levels of immigration to the island, gender discrimination claims, and abandoned children statistics have led some researchers to conclude that Puerto Rico has a high potential for human smuggling.