February 10, 2020

Bill to help victims of human trafficking clears committee, but future uncertain

Matthew Reichbach

A bill to help victims of human trafficking passed unanimously in the House Health and Human Services Committee Monday, but the bill will die this session if the Senate doesn’t add it to the budget according to advocates.

HB 101, would provide  $350,000 for emergency services for victims of human trafficking. Susan Loubet, executive director for New Mexico Women’s Agenda, said the money would be used to help the victims get away from the trafficker by providing them with clothes, food and housing.

Mary Ellen Garcia, with Crime Victims Reparation Commission, said the state, and the nation, is seeing rising numbers of human trafficking, creating victims of all ages. Garcia said that some believe there are 5,000 vulnerable kids in Albuquerque alone and half to two-thirds of them are already being trafficked for sex or labor.

Garcia said that once there is better infrastructure and the people who work with victims of human trafficking have a more clear count, “those numbers will astonish the community.”

Rep. Zachary Cook, R-Ruidoso, asked if the expert witnesses knew why the crime is increasing.

Loubet said the crime is increasing nationwide.

“It’s so lucrative and not as dangerous as drug trafficking,” she said.

Garcia said some of the increase is because of raising awareness and victims who used to be criminalized by law enforcement as sex workers are better recognized as victims who need help.

But, Garcia told NM Political Report that advocates see increases in victimization in communities where petroleum is extracted.

“We have seen an increase in victimization. There’s no way to correlate it, but there’s an increase also in domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault,” Garcia said.

But she said those who work with victims see increases even around events such as the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta each September, the Gathering of Nations, a two-day powwow in Albuquerque in April and the New Mexico State Fair.

If the bill doesn’t make it to the Senate budget bill, Garcia said the bill will be introduced next year.

Rep. Deborah Armstrong and Dayan Hochman-Vigil, both Democrats from Albuquerque, and Rebecca Dow, Republican of Truth or Consequences, are sponsoring the bill.