“Cartels scheme to get noncriminals to do their dirty work”, written by ALFREDO CORCHADO, appeared in the Dallas Morning News on December 30, 2011. This is an interesting article outlining how drug traffickers in Mexico use threats of violence to enlist unwilling smugglers into the drug trade, yet another example of how human traffickers exploit others. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, labor or services obtained through force, fraud, or coercion is human trafficking. Corchado mentions a woman, currently in custody, who was told by drug traffickers her family would be harmed if she did not transport marijuana across the border into El Paso. This type of coercion, threats to harm someone’s family, is often used by traffickers who exploit their victims through the commercial sex trade, or other forms of involuntary labor. But this particular situation places victims is a terrible position where they have no one to turn to for help. Corchado quotes the mother of one victim, “We’re innocent people, but no one believes our story in the United States, or in Mexico. …it’s like it never happened because we don’t speak up; we don’t complain. Complain to Whom? We don’t trust Mexican authorities, and the Americans see everything in black and white.”
Speaking from the perspective of American law enforcement, this type of situation is exceedingly difficult to investigate! If I arrest an individual possessing drugs in California (my home state) after they have crossed the border from Mexico, how can I verify their version of events when I would need to conduct my investigation in Mexico? This heinous use of innocent victims as human mules not only places all of the risk of transport on the enslaved (for slaves is exactly what these people are), but at the same time it shelters the drug cartels and their minions, placing a border, lack of law enforcement cooperation, language, and other barriers between those who are responsible for protecting victims of crimes and the true criminals in this situation.
As an investigator, I have on occasion initially suspected a particular individual of committing a crime, only to change my mind later on. My job then is to not only determine who did commit the crime, but often to find evidence to support the alibi of the person initially suspected. Imagine this situation: working as a patrol officer I make contact with a man and his friend who are walking down the street, and through a legal search I find a envelop of cocaine in his pocket. He professes the cocaine is not his, but belongs to his friend who is walking with him. I can either take the easy route and arrest the man for possession or, if I am diligent in my work, I question both parties to determine if the story is true. But if I only have the suspect to interview, and no way to investigate and verify their statement, my options are nil; I cannot simply release an individual, even if I believe their story. I must have exculpatory evidence which I can take to my prosecutor, who has the authority to drop any charges against the suspect.
Of course, those individuals who are forced to transport drugs are in the minority; most drug smuggling is performed by willing participants. This makes the decision too easy for most law enforcement officers: arrest the person holding the drugs and let the attorneys and the court system figure out the details from there, after all, possession is 99 percent of the law.
In the midst of the drug trade, and especially the violence embraced by the Mexican cartels, there are many innocent victims. Those of us combating human trafficking must see this element of the cartel’s business for exactly what it is: another form of slavery. This type of exploitation will be immensely difficult to prevent or solve, but the first step in defeating any problem is recognition. I applaud Alfredo Corchado for his work.