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COVER: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced a new unit of his office dedicated to combating human trafficking. State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, the author of a law that enhanced penalties for human trafficking, joined Paxton at a press conference on Jan. 14. PHOTO by SHELBY KNOWLES/THE TEXAS TRIBUNE

by JAMIE LOVEGROVE

AUSTIN — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday announced a new unit in his office dedicated to combating human trafficking.

“While trafficking is often associated with people from other countries, the victims of trafficking can and do come from anywhere, including right here in Texas,” Paxton said at a press conference. “Fortunately, through this new unit and through recent changes to the law, Texas is in a great position to make headway in the fight against trafficking, and we will take the fight to the doorstep of traffickers at every opportunity.”

The new unit will be led by Kirsta Melton, a prosecutor who has been working on human trafficking cases since 2009, first with the Bexar County district attorney’s office and, for the past year, with the attorney general’s office. 

“Every life is worth the fight,” said Melton. “No one is immune to the tragedy where children and adults are forced into modern-day slavery. The fundamental goal of our new unit is to see that Texas becomes and remains a place where human life is not for sale.”

The new unit will initially include three attorneys — just one was dedicated to human trafficking cases before — as well as five investigators, a forensic accountant and victims’ advocate.

In June, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that led to the creation of the new unit, which will use existing funds. House Bill 11, a border security bill, included an amendment by State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, that called for a unit to assist local law enforcement at their request in investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes.

The new unit will focus on both labor trafficking and sex trafficking, said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston. Last year, Thompson authored House Bill 10, which enhanced penalties for human trafficking.

According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 330 cases of human trafficking were reported in Texas, involving at least 211 adults and 110 children.

Texas has the second-highest estimated victim population of any state, and Houston has the highest number of victims of any American city, according to the resource center. 

JAMIE LOVEGROVE reports for The Texas Tribune where this story was originally published. It is made available here through a news partnership between the Texas Tribune and the San Marcos Mercury.

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