Crime

A 15-year-old from Guatemala was rescued from traffickers. Now what happens to her?

What to do if you suspect human trafficking

If you see what you think might be evidence of human trafficking, call the ICE Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.
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If you see what you think might be evidence of human trafficking, call the ICE Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.

The fate of a 15-year-old girl from Guatemala who was rescued from human traffickers is in the hands of federal agencies, according to a local Tarrant County official.

Just days ago, the girl was taken from a trafficker after Tarrant County authorities received a tip that a teen was being forced to work at a local restaurant to pay off a $10,000 debt she was incurred from being brought to the United States.

Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office spokesman David McClelland said Wednesday some information was not being released because it remains under investigation.

“For instance, we are not releasing where the girl is at this time, or if she has family in the area,” McClelland said in a Wednesday email.

When asked what will happen to the girl, McClelland said he didn’t know, but that “will be determined by the federal groups involved at this point.”

An official with U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement declined to comment on Wednesday on the case.

“ICE does not release information on victims or juveniles,” said Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for the Central Region of ICE, in a Wednesday email.

A 2016 study by the Institute on Domestic and Sexual Violence at the University of Texas at Austin estimated the number of victims of labor trafficking and child sex trafficking at over 300,000.

At any given time, there were over 234,000 victims of labor trafficking in Texas, according to statistics from the office of the Attorney General of Texas.

In this Tarrant County case, authorities have arrested Cesar Augusto Valdez-Perez, 36, who faces charges of trafficking a child and two counts of fraudulent use/possession of identifying information.

Valdez-Perez, who also is from Guatemala, is accused of providing false documentation allowing the girl to obtain the job at a local restaurant to work off the debt.

Authorities also did not release the name of the restaurant.

“Working in public environments is a common situation,” McClelland said. “There is forced labor that takes place every day in various businesses throughout this area.”

An investigation began after the teen made an outcry to a friend who contacted her counselor and Southlake police. Officials with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office’s human trafficking unit assisted in the investigation.

Detectives also believe Valdez-Perez would drop off the teen at the restaurant in the evening and had the child work throughout the night.

The suspect was arrested last month in Southlake.

Valdez-Perez posted bail of $15,000 on the trafficking charge and $1,500 each on the fraudulent identification charges, but he has an immigration hold on him.

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