Wednesday, 20 December 2006 00:00
Trafficking HonorWritten by WGCU Newsroom
Congressman Mario Diaz Balart honored those who fight against Human Trafficking in Florida Tuesday - with a flag that once flew over the nation’s Capitol.
Republican Congressman Mario Diaz Balart was in Naples to present the flag to the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking and its founder Anna Rodriquez in recognition of their efforts to stop trafficking and rescue victims. When Rodriguez was working for the Collier County Sheriffs Department she discovered a 19-year-old woman at what appeared to be a routine domestic violence call. The woman, Maria, had been kidnapped from Guatemala, smuggled into the United States and was being kept as a slave. She was forced to work without pay in the tomato fields and raped at night.
Diaz Balart says the American flag is an icon for liberty around the world and he wanted it to draw attention to the tireless efforts of Rodriguez and the coalition.
“So for me to be able to represent what I believe is the most important symbol of freedom and of dedication and of the best qualities of human-kind, which are the stars and stripes. For me to be able to present a flag that was flown over the United States capitol to a person who I believe shows what free people can do when they have the right intentions and when they’re willing to work hard.”
Thanks to Rodriguez’s persistence, Maria was rescued and her captor is now in prison. Maria became the first adult recipient of the new T-Visa created under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Anywhere from 700,000 to four million people around the world are trafficked across or within national borders every year. The U.S. Department of Health and Human services says 50 percent of the victims are children. In Florida, one person is being honored for working to identify and rescue these victims. Anna Rodriguez founded the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking in 2004. Today (Tuesday) Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart honored her for her service.
“Human trafficking is not some strange thing that happens in far away counties. It’s something that happens here in our country and even in our community. And Anna has been an advocate for the people who are victims. She’s actually traveled the world looking for victims of human trafficking and when people are victims of human trafficking they’re also often victimized a second and a third time.”
As a law enforcement victim advocate in Naples, Rodriguez discovered a victim of human trafficking and helped rescue her. The incident became a major case study and was instrumental for the creation of the T Visa, which allows victims to remain in the US to help authorities investigate their case.
Florida is reportedly the second largest hub of human trafficking in the U.S. However, since 1996 only 6 cases of slavery have actually been brought to federal court.