EL CENTRO, Calif. - Thousands of human trafficking victims, mostly children, are being crossed through the Imperial Valley. Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground Railroad, made that statement at Wednesday’s Second Annual Human Trafficking and Commercial Exploitation of Children Summit in El Centro.
“It’s a hot bed here because thousands are smuggled through these ports,” Ballard said.
His organization fights human trafficking in 15 different countries.
“The fastest growing criminal enterprise in the planet, it’s rivaling drugs at this point, is human trafficking,” Ballard said.
The Imperial County District Attorney’s Office called it a $9 billion business with an estimated 10,000 children smuggled into the U.S. each year and forced into the commercial sex trade. Ballard, being the keynote speaker at the summit, called it an enormous global problem.
Sgt. Justin Bostic, I.C. Sheriff’s Office, said the proximity with the border is a factor of concern.
“Coming through Imperial County is a major issue because it’s a corridor through all the larger cities, whether it be Los Angeles, San Diego, or Riverside and going further north,” Bostic said.
Deborah Owen, Assistant District Attorney, said the summit had a variety of impact not only on law enforcement agencies, but on attending non-profit and community groups, as well.
“Increase awareness, deal with educational opportunities and then update the community on those initiatives and the action that we’re doing in Imperial County right now,” Owen said.
Diana Moreno-Inman, member of the El Centro Soroptomist Club, highlighted the training aspect of the summit.
“What a lot of the presenters are doing today is teaching us how to detect these subtle cues so that we can help the victims of these horrible crimes,” Moreno-Inman said.
Owen mentioned that schools will be integrated in helping kids learn how to protect themselves from this type of crime.
“Kids in our local schools will be educated on human trafficking as a form of modern-day slavery,” Owen said.
She shared some simple ways that parents could help protect their families.
“Talking to your children about online predators, monitoring your children digital media and social media accounts, being aware of what your children are doing,” Owen said.
Ballard plans to work alongside local authorities in training officers and fighting human trafficking.
“To help supplement the efforts to rescue more kids,” Ballard explained.
Ballard encourages everyone in the community to report any suspicion of human trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation of children. He said it could save somebody’s life.