Extradition of accused Mexican traffickers raises victim hopes for justice

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Mexican women and girls sent to the United States and forced to have sex with up to 40 men a day finally could see their accused traffickers punished after U.S. authorities cracked a largely family-run sex ring after nearly 20 years, officials said.

Four Mexicans, some related by marriage and blood, including brothers, accused of sexually exploiting women were extradited to the United States from Mexico over the past two weeks, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

They are charged with being part of an international sex trafficking ring that forced women and girls to work as prostitutes in brothels in Mexico and the United States, mainly in and around New York, from around 2000 to 2016.

The case underlines Mexico’s status as a source country for women trafficked to the United States for sex work.

According to anti-slavery group Polaris, 1,300 victims of sex trafficking were identified in the United States from 2007 to 2016, of whom more than a third were Mexican.

But campaigners say the true figure is likely to be in the thousands.

The alleged traffickers used physical and sexual violence to force their victims to work in brothels or in customers’ homes, authorities said.

“Those extradited, along with others, operated a family business centered on making money from exploiting females they forced into sex slavery,” said Angel Melendez, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in New York.

“Now these traffickers will face justice where they made their income, right here in New York,” he said in a statement.

Rosi Orozco, a former congresswoman who spearheaded Mexico’s anti-trafficking law in 2012, said the case dates back to 2000. The extradition is a chance for traffickers to be prosecuted and punished, Orozco said.

“Many of our Mexicans disappear from our country to be sexually exploited in New York,” Orozco, who heads the Mexican Commission United Against Human Trafficking, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We don’t want the traffickers to be free. We don’t want them to be outside in the streets now looking for more victims. Victims deserve at least to have reparations.”

Traffickers often isolate girls from their families with promises of love or rape them, making it hard for them to return home because of the stigma, ICE said.

Globally, more than 40 million people are victims of trafficking, according to the International Labour Organization. An estimated 4 million are forced into sexual exploitation.