Mario Laguna-Guerrero was a young man with a 17-year-old girlfriend and a mountain of debt, incurred when he was smuggled into the U.S. to work on a farm in Florida. So he decided to pimp out his girlfriend to the other migrant workers in the area. And sadly, Mario is far from the first person to get this idea; sex trafficking of girls and young women in migrant worker communities is far too common.
Mario’s girlfriend was first trafficked for sex when she was 16. Not only was she a child when Mario began selling her to pay off his debts, but investigators claim she has an IQ of 58. An IQ at that level psychologists have deemed indicative of a mental disability making it hard for her to make decisions on her own. Yet when law enforcement found the girl, she told them clearly, “I don’t want to do this.” She certainly decided that, and no surprises there. The young woman had been forced to have sex with at least 80 workers in the area while her boyfriend collected the $25 a session he charged. He also tried to convince her to recruit some of her high school classmates into prostitution as well.
This incident has caused some to question whether or not crimes like human trafficking are disproportionally committed by undocumented immigrants like Mario. The short answer is that there isn’t enough data on human trafficking to make this judgment. The much longer answer is that there is a significant problem of sex trafficking in migrant worker communities, regardless of their members’ immigration status. This is not the first operation in Florida, for example, where one young woman or several were transported around the state to have sex with men at migrant camps, while their pimp kept all the money. But trafficking rings have also been uncovered in communities of entirely documented immigrants from Asia, Europe, and South America. Furthermore, such trafficking rings in the U.S. have been operated by U.S. citizens. So claiming that traffickers are disproportionately either citizens or immigrants is an impossible call to make.
Sex trafficking in ethnically-based communities can be incredibly hard to detect. Often, ethnic brothels are run by members of a specific group, use women of that group, and sell those women only to men of that group. It can be challenging for law enforcement to infiltrate these operations if they are not already known and trusted in that community. These closed systems provide unique challenges, but are no more or less abusive than an American-born trafficker selling American girls to the highest bidder.
Human trafficking is about systematic exploitation of people. In this case, a young woman was systematically exploited by her boyfriend and a number of migrant workers. In other cases, migrant workers are systematically exploited by company owners. It’s exploitation at the heart of the issue, not immigration status.