Thank you Congressman, and thank you all for including me in this conversation today.
Human trafficking is a serious problem, whether you discuss the number of its victims or the severity of the emotional and physical damage that it inflicts upon them.
Human traffickers and their illicit activities are an affront to people of good conscience and a scourge that must be driven from our state.
The federal government estimates as many as 20,000 victims are trafficked into the United States every year though we have no reliable way of knowing if the problem is even worse than that or how many of our own citizens are caught up in that nightmare as well.
Of the identified victims of human trafficking some 20% may be here in Texas and we've taken deliberate steps to fight this problem. Last year, I was honored to sign legislation championed by Representative Thompson that created a Human Trafficking Task Force that reports to the Attorney General's office.
This task force combines the best efforts of law enforcement advocacy groups and state agencies to raise awareness and provide specialized law-enforcement training.
That bill also provided new protections to victims making it safer for them to stand up to their assailants.
Just recently, I called upon the Texas Legislature to further toughen the laws against these traffickers subjecting the worst offenders those who commit these crimes on an ongoing basis to a new first-degree felony Continuous Human Trafficking.
This felony in addition to penalties under existing laws would subject each offender to an additional sentence ranging from 25 to 99 years in prison.
Those who would commit these heinous crimes need to know if they're caught in Texas, they won't see the light of day for a very long time.
While legislators figure out the best way to make this happen I am putting resources into the challenge now with grants from my office's Criminal Justice Division.
We're making $500,000 available to Texas cities and counties to help victims of human trafficking.
These local governments can either use the grants to directly provide much-needed services through their own offices or to contract with established local non-profit groups experienced in helping victims of human trafficking.
In the same fashion, my office is providing more than $291,000 to the Office of the Attorney General expanding the ability of the new Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force to identify, investigate and prosecute these cases.
The grant will enable the task force to add resources including investigators who specialize in the kind of financial tricks that traffickers use to stay hidden and a prosecutor specially trained in putting these types of criminals away.
These new resources will enhance the effectiveness of this task force and train members of other agencies in the art of locating and eliminating these criminal enterprises.
As we know, the trafficking problem is only complicated by Washington's ongoing failure to secure our border with Mexico.
Not only do drug cartels and transnational gangs oppress their trafficking victims they also employ them as pawns in their other enterprises.
That's why, in the absence of adequate assistance from Washington Texas has stepped up over the past several years.
With the help of the Legislature, Texas has invested more than $230 million in border security efforts over the last several years filling gaps left by insufficient federal action.
We've expanded patrol capacity on the ground, in the air, and on the water including sheriffs, local police, game wardens and DPS troopers.
When criminals responded by changing their tactics and their routes we adapted again, creating our Ranger Recon teams which enable us to quickly put boots on the ground in hot spots.
However, without more resources from our federal government there's only so much we can do.
Until Washington fully engages, Texas will keep pressing the issue, taking the fight to the criminal element that continually attempts to exploit our porous border while committing terrible crimes against our citizens.
I applaud Senfronia Thompson's efforts to continue the dialogue on human trafficking and protect the victims of this unspeakable practice.
I hope the legislature will answer my calls for increased penalties for traffickers and that our task forces will have success in cracking down on these criminals who prey on the fearful and brazenly sell innocence as a commodity.
We will not rest until this crime is eradicated from our midst.