George Aranda, San Antonio
By Lisa Morton
When George Aranda signed on the dotted line of the military oath and raised his hand to protect our constitution and the freedoms it guarantees, he took the oath seriously and for life. George served as an engineer with the U. S. Air Force for four years until he retired medically in 2004. The oath he took truly became a part of him and has lead him to embark on a journey as a member of the A21 Freedom Chasers, a new awareness group based out of San Antonio that seeks to enlighten and educate people on the increasing problem of human trafficking. “I found that the subject matter is either one people don’t want to talk about or are oblivious to”, said Aranda. “I have a 5year old son and 12 year old daughter and it is a discussion I felt I needed to have with my 12 year old and my nieces and nephews”, he adds.
George began a great adventure last week in El Paso, consisting of cycling to start the conversation about Human Trafficking in Texas, one of the greatest injustices in the world of that A21 Freedom Chasers wants to abolish. He plans on raising awareness and money for the charity on his “Cycling for Freedom” tour going from El Paso to San Antonio by way of Highway 90 at Van Horn. Ironically, the I-10 corridor portion has been labeled the number one trafficking route in the country. I asked George how it makes him feel to think that he is quite possibly crossing paths with these victims and he said, “You have a lot of time to think when riding a bike all day and thoughts that I most likely would see or come across some of these victims had me asking myself, what would I do, and I know I would help them”. “It makes me feel sad and it fuels me to continue the cause”.
There are interviews scheduled with 12 public officials in the near future, ranging from law enforcement to health care representatives. George agrees that while cities like San Antonio, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and the Permian Basin are hot spots for the second largest criminal industry, human trafficking is also evident in small towns on both sides of the border. Activity was recently confirmed at a Ft. Hancock restaurant where one waitress told George that coyotes mostly ignore the border fence only a mile from town, and bring workers under their control to labor on area farms. Aranda wants to make sure that public officials are implementing and utilizing their training to identify and assist these victims. Another area of potential intervention is through hospitals and clinics since statistics indicate that at least 88% of victims seek medical attention. “There are questions that must be asked when red flags are raised through these interactions, and we don’t want what may be their only chance to be missed”, he said.
Social media has certainly made it a lot easier to click and buy almost anything through sites like Backpage, Craigslist and Facebook. Even human beings are being marketed as a commodity, with more victims needed to meet the high demand. Data compiled from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, Polaris’s BeFree Textline, and communications referencing overseas cases, reveal alarming statistics:
• In 2015, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received 21,947 calls, 1,535 webforms, and 1,275 emails.
• The BeFree Textline received 1,472 SMS messages.
• Of the above signals, 5,973 referenced potential cases of human trafficking.
• Human trafficking occurred in all 50 states in 2015.
• 252 of the human trafficking cases reported occurred overseas.
• In total, 25,696 trafficking cases have been reported through the NHTRC and Polaris’s BeFree Textline since December 2007.
• More than 1,600 survivors of human trafficking reached out for help in 2015—a 24% increase over 2014.
• The top venue for sex trafficking was commercial front brothels
Human trafficking is modern day slavery that fuels the growth of organized crime, undermining health, safety, security, and the basic needs of humanity. It is also the fastest growing crime in the world and has sparked the beginning of the A21 Freedom Chasers, a non-profit organization in San Antonio, Texas. The vision of the A21 Freedom Chasers is to bring awareness, education, and hope, to the issue of human trafficking to San Antonio, and the surrounding areas. A21 Freedom Chasers is a part of the AACAT – Alamo Area Coalition Against Trafficking, and works closely with other non – profit organizations whose mission is also to prevent, protect, and see the crime of human trafficking end.
“Walk for Freedom” will follow “Cycling for Freedom” on October 15 in downtown San Antonio, where thousands will be walking simultaneously around the world for one cause, the fight against human trafficking. The walk’s signature attention-grabbing factor is a single-file line of participants dressed in black with black tape across their mouths. The walk exists to reflect A21’s heart for freedom and justice and it is ultimately designed to turn awareness into action. Human trafficking is a global reality that affects every continent structure. The A21 organization’s goal is to completely eradicate modern-day slavery and they are headed that way, one step at a time. For information on how to donate, go to A21freedomchasers.org.