Thank you Vince Ryan for that introduction and for everything you and your office do for the people of Harris County.
We're here today to discuss the horrors of human trafficking which, when you've seen the horrific details about these crimes, is really nothing more than a modern-day slave trade.
Traffickers feed off the hopes and dreams of those who long for different lives; whether leaving their home country to come to America or perhaps running away from homes already here in the United States.
Instead, they are brought into lives of personal tragedy, of servitude, vice and crime with absolutely no hope for escape.
Trapped between the law and the lawless these individuals suffer under inhumane conditions, forced into activities they'd never imagined, their captors threatening to kill them, or even their families, if they don't comply.
In Texas, we must do everything possible to ensure more people don't fall into the trap of human trafficking and to make sure that the people behind these insidious acts pay the price for their crimes.
I'm joined here today by several state officials who are leading the charge on this issue in the Lone Star State including General Abbott, whose task force on human trafficking has helped put names and faces to this problem and have developed tangible steps to combat it.
This task force combines the best efforts of law enforcement advocacy groups and state agencies to raise awareness and provide specialized law-enforcement training.
Senator Van de Putte has been a tireless voice on this issue, sponsoring legislation to create the attorney general's task force and serving as a key member.
Another early supporter of the task force, Representative Thompson has also been very active in the war on trafficking, championing important legislation and making sure this issue never fades from the public eye and even hosting her own conference to discuss efforts to combat this terrible crime and provide support to its victims.
Both Senator Van de Putte and Rep. Thompson have introduced legislation honoring my request last year for the creation of a new first-degree felony, Continuous Human Trafficking.
This super first degree felony would subject those who commit these crimes on an ongoing basis to an additional sentence, ranging from 25 to 99 years to life in prison.
Those who repeat the offense will be punished with life without parole.
Hopefully, when they understand their own freedom and profits are on the line, perhaps for the rest of their lives, these traffickers will think twice about continuing to engage in these criminal activities.
However, providing penalties isn't enough. We also need to take further steps to help victims rebuild their lives.
Last year, my office's Criminal Justice Division took steps to do this, making available grants in the amount of $500,000 to Texas cities and counties to assist the victims of human trafficking.
Whether local authorities used the grants to provide services directly or worked with established non-profit groups dedicated to assisting the victims of trafficking, the important thing is getting help to those who have suffered so much, and so long.
My office also provided more than $291,000 to the Office of the Attorney General to help expand the ability of the Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force to conduct their efforts.
Only by working together can we effectively eliminate this sort of crime from our state and our country, saving its victims from becoming victims in the first place.
Of course, part of that remains waiting for the federal government to take the steps necessary to secure our border with Mexico.
Washington's ongoing inability to effectively counter the growing strength of drug cartels and transnational gangs in Northern Mexico affects all aspects of law enforcement.
An unsecured border represents an opportunity for these criminal organizations to expand their reach and power into the United States.
Many of these organizations are behind human trafficking operations and are the ones benefitting from the victims' enslavement.
Until Washington fully engages, Texas will keep pressing for them to fulfill their responsibility and take the fight to the criminal element that continually attempts to exploit our border to commit terrible crimes along both sides.
Now, I'd like to invite General Abbott to give his thoughts on the issue.