MCALLEN, Texas (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Fear of tighter border patrols and tough new laws is silencing victims of human trafficking in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, a prime location for migrants to enter the United States, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation investigation.
Running about 100 miles (160 km) along the U.S.-Mexico border, the Valley has been thrust into the spotlight with President Donald Trump’s call for a wall that could impact thousands of its residents and workers, legal and illegal.
Here are 10 facts about the Valley and trafficking in Texas:
* More than nine out of 10 people are Hispanic in the four counties of the Rio Grande Valley - Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy.
* The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the 2017 population of the Valley at 1.37 million
* More than a third of Valley residents live in poverty, according to U.S. Census figures.
* The Department of State lists Texas as one of the three U.S. states with the most human trafficking activity alongside New York and California.
* Texas had 102 labor trafficking cases between 2000 and 2015, said online resource Humantraffickingdata.org, compared with 150 cases last year, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, but experts say this is the tip of the iceberg.
* Two heavily used migration routes from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala end in the Rio Grande Valley.
* The Valley is a major corridor for migration further north into the United States. The South Texas Human Rights Center works to identify the bodies of hundreds of migrants who have died trying to cross a U.S. border checkpoint in Falfurrias.
* It was once referred to as the Magic Valley, possibly due to its hospitable climate for growing fruits and vegetables that attract seasonal workers.
* In the last five years, the workers’ group Fuerza del Valle has recovered more than US$500,000 in unpaid wages for workers in the Rio Grande Valley, using telephone calls, letter-writing campaigns and demonstrations.
* Across the Rio Grande is the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. The U.S. State Department has issued its highest travel warning for Tamaulipas, citing murders, kidnappings, sexual assaults and gang violence. It issued a similar warning for Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea and Syria.
Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org