On episode 11 of the Red X Podcast, Lance and Nicole speak with Tracy Hughes from Tamar’s Tapestry on the Texas-Mexico border. Nicole reports from one Texas news source that cites fear of trafficking as one factor in separating children at the border.
Lance talks about his cats (Moe and Kiki) and how cats go through the door quickly if you open the door. Nicole says she’s experienced this phenomenon with dogs when she went to Molly Stillman’s house and accidentally let her dogs out. Nicole ran down the road yelling “Tater Tot!” (not the name of the dog, oops). Lance suggests this could be the start of a food truck venture.
In the news, Nicole reports from My Statesman, about fears of human trafficking being a factor in separating children from their parents at the border of Texas and Mexico. The article states that Texas’s Rio Grande Valley is where most families have been crossing the border in recent years. In fact, the Border patrol has reported more than 450 cases of fraud among children and family migrants and prosecuted 60 cases in the last year. A spokesman for a Homeland Security Department said they are “looking at all options in conjunction with the attorney general’s zero tolerance policy for those illegally crossing the border.” She goes on to say that they have “a legal obligation to protect the best interests of the child whether that be from human smugglings, drug traffickers or nefarious actors who knowingly break our immigration laws.”
Nicole welcomes Tracy Hughes from Tamar’s Tapestry, an anti-trafficking organization on the Mexico/Texas border.Lance includes Tracy in the icebreaker quiz as an expert on Texas. What do the following mean in English?:
- Rio Grande
- El Paso
- Brazos River
Nicole asks Tracy how she founded Tamar’s Tapestry. The organization has been in existence since Dec 2016. Tracy was asked to teach a class on global women’s issues. In the class, she watched a video from a woman who had opened a home in Cambodia for trafficking victims. The young girls were singing about their trauma, and the victims couldn’t even finish it the words so their friends sang for them. It was at that moment that Tracy knew she had to do something. She even took a trip to India to see how they are combatting it.
Tamar’s Tapestry is a faith-based organization and it gets its name from Tamar, who in the Bible poses as a prostitute. Another Tamar in the Bible is David’s daughter who was raped. Both Tamars experienced inexplicable trauma. “Tapestry” is significant in that all the loose threads can be woven together into something beautiful much like victims’ lives.
Tamar’s Tapestry offers shelter for women who have just been rescued from a human trafficking situation. But the organization also works on education and prevention as well as helps advise policy for local and state legislators. They are the first crisis shelter in the Rio Grande Valley, they only provide service for adult females. Tracy says that every aspect of the home is meant to offer comfort and respite for the survivors who stay with them. Some of the women are so exhausted by the time that they arrive at the shelter that they fall asleep on their covers before they can get in the bed. The average age of the women they serve is 18-35 so they decorate with that in mind and have fun, funky and lively décor to make them feel at home.
As a crisis shelter, they can provide services for up to two weeks. Tamar’s Tapestry sees three different demographics of survivors: immigrants, imported victims from another area in the US and local women. Sometimes the young women will come back to stay at the shelter if they are coming back to interview for a case but otherwise they are only in the care of Tamar’s Tapestry for 2 weeks until they can be sent to a more long-term restoration service.
Tracy says that she often sees people get “smuggling” confused with “trafficking”. Smuggling is a crime against a nation and involves moving a person from one border to another. It is always voluntary. Often, people have paid a “coyote” to smuggle them across the border. Although these coyotes are often controlled by the cartel, generally they are gang members. The people being smuggled are not always from Central America, they are also from the Ukraine, Russia, Philippines, Afghanistan or another country. They may fly to central America and hire a central American coyote to smuggle them in.
In contrast, trafficking is always involuntary. Movement is not a necessary component of trafficking. Although smuggling and trafficking are often inaccurately used interchangeably, it is possible that a smuggling scenario can become trafficking. Sometimes immigrants are sold before they even get over to the US. So what began as smuggling then becomes trafficking. Once immigrants are brought over by a coyote they are kept in a stash house in horrendous conditions. They are temporarily held in these stash houses until they can be moved farther north. The victims do not realize they have been pre-sold. Victims may be told that if they do not do what the coyote says then their family could be killed. Some of them are put to work in the Rio Grande Valley area but others can be sent to other states.
In the groups, coyotes will often separate out the women from the group. They are then gang raped and their undergarments are hung on a tree as a status symbol. These displays are called “rape trees” and they are meant to instill fear in the women who might be coming along that path after the women who have been raped. Many of the women expect to be raped some time along the way and Tracy says they have heard reports that the women are beginning birth control pills before they make the journey.
Tracy explains that many people can’t understand why a parent would put their child through such a dangerous journey because we American often lack a basic understanding of what is going on in immigrants’ home countries. These parents are often desperate for their children to have a better life and they see the risk of trauma they might experience on the journey to the US a risk worth taking for them to escape their current situation.
Tamar’s tapestry also sees children being lured online. Tracy says that generally, most of the recruited are female (85%) while only about 15% are male. The Rio Grande Valley had the first case in which a 17 year old minor girl sold a 15 year old minor girl. And they also recently had a case in which a pair imported girls from Louisiana.
Tracy says human trafficking happens everywhere in places you wouldn’t expect it. She knows of one reporter who didn’t believe that domestic human trafficking was happening in areas outside of large cities. This reporter set up a false person (minor 14 year old girl) on social media—a young girl and within an hour and a half she had received 223 hits.
Tracy says the problem is the demand and the money. As a faith based organization, Tamar’s Tapestry is encouraging churches to address pornography. They believe that the demand for human trafficking will not be able to be fully regulated by the government and that it is a human problem that will require humans making a change. She says churches need to make it a safe place for groups to work through pornography addiction with men available to mentor them. Although pornography consumption is normalized outside of the church it is still not talked about within the church and that needs to change if we are going to make an impact in reducing the demand for purchasing sex.
Nicole asks who is making the actual purchases for pre-sold people when they cross the border. Tracy says that they are often pre-sold to people through the cartel and that often they have victims come through with a family unit. Most people don’t have papers and their trafficker might be posing as part of that family. Sometimes there are easy common sense methods for determining if there is a trafficker in that group and other times that identification is much more difficult. Sometimes a parent might be paying another person to send over their child, or another person offers to pay the parent to use their child to accompany them to go across the border. So if a child is traveling with another adult, it is not necessarily that child’s parent. In fact, they might have been coached to call that adult a parent.
No matter how you slice it, children are the victims in this. They experience trauma in their home country, on route and whether they are separated or not, they will experience trauma. If a parent is charged with smuggling, he or she might be put in shackles and that is also difficult for children to see. Tracy says these are not easy issues with simple solutions.
How can the listener get involved? Educate yourself on the realities of pornography and don’t consume. Also, if you see something, say something. Call the Human Trafficking Hotline through Polaris to report a potential human trafficking scenario: 1-888-373-7888. It can be made anonymously and will go directly through to someone who can take your report. Tracy says that anti-trafficking organizations need your time and talent. You might have a skill that can be used in their operations so invest yourself. Also pray for the victims as well as the traffickers. Be an advocate and use your voice to tell others about the reality of human trafficking.
Tracy reminds us of Matthew 25:40 “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me”. We have been called to serve God by serving others.
Lance took away that they would crowd the women into houses (stash houses). Nicole was most struck by the rape trees that are meant to induce fear into potential victims. And Lance says that even if you can’t see the demand, it is there and that the reporter’s “sting” operation using a false account indicates that even in small towns where you don’t expect it, human trafficking can be occurring. Finally, issues surrounding the border are more complicated than is sometimes portrayed. People can be incredibly polarizing on the issue because sadly they are politically polarizing. It is complicated without an easy solution. We want families together, but we want them together safely.