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Colin Allred: His Own Man

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “…refusing to expand Medicaid is also the wrong thing to do. It’s just not who we are as people. To me, this is all about values and it should be a value of ours to try and make sure that as many of our neighbors as possible can go see a doctor when they need to.”

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The Dallas Weekly, Staff Report

The Dallas Weekly recently got a chance to have some one-on-one time with North Dallas’ own Congressional freshman phenom, Representative Colin Allred, the first Democrat to represent Texas’ 32nd district since its creation in 2003. In defeating Pete Sessions, who had held that district since then, Allred pulled off an upset that – in normal times – would have automatically catapulted this dynamic civil rights attorney into the national spotlight.

However, there is no question that the 2018 midterms were unlike any previous election cycle this century. On the Democratic side, record numbers of women and the most ethnically diverse coalition ever ran on an equally diverse range of issues. Healthcare in particular has become one of the most prominent indicators of the Democratic Party’s expanded range, as defending the ACA is now considered the moderate position in contrast with more progressive single payer systems like Medicare For All.

Into this slew of contradictions stands Representative Allred, a self-proclaimed moderate who considers his advocacy for positions on different sides of the aisle “pragmatic.” And in the theme of this new class, defies the definitions simple labels imply. For example, while Congressman Allred is a staunch proponent of strengthening the ACA, he also endorses the expansion of Medicare. Voted co-president of the freshman class by his peers, yet one of the last holdouts when it came to endorsing Nancy Pelosi for Speaker. Contradictions.

Still, those contradictions just might make Congressman Allred a perfect fit for his North Dallas district. His desire to serve his constituents reveals the earnestness of a man who was not only born and raised in the district, but also still calls that district home. Indeed, of all the questions posed to the Congressman, his most detailed response was to our query about his goals for his district.

Congressman Colin Allred (CA): “We – my staff and I – want to restore the constituent work of being an advocate and resource for the people in the district. I want folks to feel like they have someone in office they can call who will do everything we can to help with whatever their issue is. If you have an issue with your Medicare or Social Security or if you’re a veteran and you’re having trouble getting your benefits…reach out to us and we will go to bat for you and make sure that you get the services that you need.

“I want to make sure people understand that I’m their member of Congress, their advocate and that they can reach out to me regardless of party affiliation. I also want folks to feel like I’m present and that I’m accessible. I’ve held a number of town halls, making sure I stay in contact with people, making sure that they understand what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Because even if folks disagree with me, I want to hear their opinion so I can try to explain to them why I disagree.

“I’m a strong believer that there’s a lot we can agree on with folks on the other side and that if we could spend a little bit more time talking about those things…things like infrastructure, lower prescription drug prices, lower healthcare costs, job training…that we can move the ball forward in a way that satisfies not only my district, but the American people. I think people expect us to work together.

Dallas Weekly (DW): Bipartisanship? That seemed like something even the least jaded reporter would believe in today’s political environment, so we pressed for details, asking first about his colleagues in the Foreign Affairs Committee, which had recently been rocked over comments made by Representative Ilhan Omar.

(CA): “The committee is one that works very well. Over the past two weeks, a number of bills that we’ve put out have had bipartisan support on important issues. Like today, we voted on some bills regarding Venezuela, regarding the Russian influence in Crimea, things that are really important for our international relations and those as well are all bipartisan, so it’s a committee that I think, so far, we’ve had a lot to agree on.”

“I certainly disagree with some of the comments that the representative made but I also think that we have to be worried about Islamaphobia, and about people using identity as a wedge to divide us. I think we need to focus on what unites us as much as possible.”

(DW): A reasonable answer for sure, but what about increased tensions on the Committee itself? Or between Congresswoman Omar and Chairman Engel?

(CA): “Honestly, I’ve been focused on the work we’ve been doing. The things that we’re doing extend far beyond our individual relationships. We need to make sure we’re exercising our Article 1 [of the Constitution] power as Congress to reassert our control over foreign policy matters that I think for too many years have been slipping to the Executive, especially under this President.”

(DW): Again, a remarkably positive approach. Not that we truly expected him to gossip about his colleagues, but it was still quite refreshing to hear such a thoughtful answer. And one that is, admittedly, quite charitable to his Republican colleagues while still acknowledging a recognition of issues causing conflict between Democrats and the Executive branch. Not bad.

We wanted to know more about his committee work. Noting his position on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, we chatted for a while about one of his campaign issues: high speed rail. Congressman Allred is a huge proponent of the proposed 90-minute Dallas to Houston line and thinks the highly-populous Texas triangle will ultimately provide a great opportunity for the state to lead the nation in the development of HSR. Asked about opposition from groups like “Texas Against HSR,” the Congressman replied:

(CA): “[The proposed Dallas to Houston HSR line] is following an existing corridor; that’s one of the reason why it was chosen, because it would have the least impact on the folks in the area.

“We’re going to have to make some tough decisions about how we’re going to connect people and continue to deal with our growth but I am positive and hopeful that we can get this project done in a way that’s consistent with our values and is respectful of the homeowners as well.

“Perhaps, but for now, those rural homeowners still aren’t interested. In fact, Texans Against HSR recently won a fairly significant ruling against Texas Central, which was declared “not a railroad” and therefore, ineligible to survey or acquire land by eminent domain. Texas Central is appealing the ruling, but it’s clearly a setback for the project.”

(DW): Next, we asked about Healthcare. At a recent town hall, the Congressman derided the “hidden tax” Texans were being forced to pay for healthcare thanks to Republican efforts to weaken and sabotage the ACA. We asked him to expand on that assertion.

(CA): “Healthcare shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Finding ways to lower the cost of healthcare and expand coverage should be something we can agree on. To me, it’s one of the pillars of opportunity we have to have in this country.

“When I talk about a hidden tax, there are actually a couple of parts to it. Number one: we haven’t expanded Medicaid coverage in Texas and we should because we are paying into the system and our money is going to other states that did expand Medicaid. Expanding Medicaid would bring a lot of that money back to Texas so it just makes fiscal sense to do that. Number two: when we have folks who don’t have insurance, who have to go to Parkland [Hospital] to get care, we have to bear the cost of that care as a community. But we’re bearing it when they are at their most ill – when it’s most expensive – when some of those issues might have been taken care of at an earlier, less expensive stage if they had access to preventative care along the way.

“And refusing to expand Medicaid is also the wrong thing to do. It’s just not who we are as people. To me, this is all about values and it should be a value of ours to try and make sure that as many of our neighbors as possible can go see a doctor when they need to.”

(DW): So what does the Congressman think about President Trump’s reported budget containing $845 billion in cuts from Medicare and $1 trillion in Medicaid cuts?

(CA): “Budgets are about values. It’s a statement of values. When a president puts out a budget, it’s supposed to reflect what they think is important and it’s very clear from this budget that this president does not think that Medicare is something that is valuable and that people who depend on it – people like my mom whose Medicare paid for her breast cancer surgery and for her treatment – aren’t of value. I just don’t think that matches the North Texas that I know, so I reject that.”

(DW): Now that we were talking about the President, we asked the Congressman what he thought about Speaker Pelosi’s recent statement coming out against impeachment.

(CA): “I’ve never been somebody who thinks we should talk loosely about impeachment. From the very beginning I’ve always thought it a very serious topic, that should be treated very seriously and not done in a partisan way. If it ever happens, it needs to be done in a way that’s right for the country. And so I agree with what the Speaker said in that regard. This is not something that should just be pursued by Democrats; it would have to be something that the country perceives needs to be done for the good of the country. I think what we need to be doing is focusing on the things that I think the American people expect us to do and not get stuck in what would be at this point just a partisan battle over how one feels about the President.”

(DW): We then noted that we knew how he felt about at least one person becoming President and asked him to explain his early endorsement of former HUD Secretary, Julián Castro, who recently made headlines over his strong support for reparations.

(CA): “Well Julián is a friend of mine. I worked for him at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and so I’ve seen him work and think he’s a great Texan and great American and I’m certainly proud that he has taken this step. Julián has always been a straight shooter. He says what he believes whatever the topic is and I think that’s something we need more of in politics: people who say what they believe.”

DW: Finally…let’s talk baseball. Noting that his athleticism as a former NFL player surely couldn’t have gone unnoticed by his colleagues, we wanted to know just how quickly he was recruited for the Congressional baseball team. Laughing heartily, the Congressman fessed up.

(CA): “The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus in the last Congress was my good friend Cedric Richmond, who was a baseball player in college as well as the main reason why Democrats have been winning the baseball games in recent years…was literally recruiting me during the campaign while he helped me out. So, yeah, it started really early. Thing is, I played baseball in high school. It was my favorite sport when I was growing up and so we’ll soon see if I still have the old skills.”

So ended our introduction to this thoughtful, congenial, independent-minded new Congressman who defies labels yet stands out all the same. An unapologetic advocate for family leave who will cite studies showing a correlation between paternity leave and increased quality of life and increased productivity as readily as he will go to bat for his constituents (neighbors) over missing federal benefits shows that Texas 32nd district is in good hands.

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Jack Nicklaus Once Again Surprises Military Veterans with a Golf Lesson in Honor of Veterans Day and the PGA National Day of HOPE

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “The PGA of America reaches out to Veterans, they reach out to all different people,” explained Jack Nicklaus, who is the only sportsman and just the fourth person in history to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005), the Congressional Gold Medal (2015) and the Lincoln Medal (2018). “It is a great organization. PGA HOPE is impactful on its own, but they also collaborate with other organizations, such as partnering with Folds of Honor for Patriot Golf Days.

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Jack Nicklaus coaches PGA HOPE Veteran, Homer Watts, during the Jack Nicklaus PGA HOPE Veterans Lessons at the Bear’s Club on November 7, 2022 in Jupiter, FL. (Photo by Sarah Kenney/PGA of America)
Jack Nicklaus coaches PGA HOPE Veteran, Homer Watts, during the Jack Nicklaus PGA HOPE Veterans Lessons at the Bear’s Club on November 7, 2022 in Jupiter, FL. (Photo by Sarah Kenney/PGA of America)

Special to NNPA Newswire

Imagine being invited to play a round of golf at Jack Nicklaus’ Florida home club and getting a surprise lesson from none other than the 18-time major champion himself.

For the third straight year, Nicklaus gave some hometown military heroes who participate in the South Florida PGA Section PGA HOPE (Helping Our Patriots Everywhere) program a memory for a lifetime at The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Florida.

In celebration of both Veterans Day and the PGA National Day of HOPE, Nicklaus thanked the playing group of Veterans for their service and shared instructional tips, before inviting them out as his guests for a day on the championship golf course that he designed and is played regularly by up to 30 PGA TOUR pros who are members.

As the military pillar of PGA REACH, PGA HOPE is designed to introduce golf to Veterans and Active-Duty Military to enhance their physical, mental, social, and emotional well-being.

PGA REACH and PGA HOPE aspire to create a physically and emotionally healthier Veteran community through a six- to eight-week curriculum led by PGA Professionals trained in adaptive golf and military cultural competency.

U.S. Army Veteran First Lt. (Ret.) Robert Truckenmiller received a Purple Heart after being shot in the Vietnam War.

Other than hearing from other Veterans from time to time, he said that when he got a call from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) inviting him to take part in the PGA HOPE program, it was the first real “welcome home” feeling he ever received for his service.

“The PGA of America reaches out to Veterans, they reach out to all different people,” explained Nicklaus, who is the only sportsman and just the fourth person in history to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005), the Congressional Gold Medal (2015) and the Lincoln Medal (2018).

“It is a great organization. PGA HOPE is impactful on its own, but they also collaborate with other organizations, such as partnering with Folds of Honor for Patriot Golf Days.

“I have great admiration and respect for the men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country’s freedom, and try to get behind efforts to help our Veterans, as well as their families. For me to do my little part—even to a small group—I am delighted to do so, especially for the PGA HOPE program.”

PGA HOPE has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the VA, which enables Recreational Therapists to refer Veterans to PGA HOPE as a form of therapy.

Truckenmiller was quite surprised when Nicklaus stepped out on the driving range.

“I’m a little bit awestruck,” said Truckenmiller.

“He’s probably the best golfer ever, and he was most gracious. He helped me with my putting, on lining my ball up, and to stop moving my head. He told me to stare at it when I hit it.

“I lost my wife of 54 years three months ago. This is a remedy for some of the loneliness.”

U.S. Air Force Sgt. (Ret.) Pamela Carter, of Wellington, Florida, lost her brother, Bruce, in the Vietnam War. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously, and the VA Medical Center in Miami is named after him.

When Nicklaus approached Pamela and gave her a lesson, she quickly reached in her pocket and handed him a challenge coin with her brother’s photo on it.

“I was just shocked he was here,” said Carter. “I stumbled on PGA HOPE and signed up for it. Meeting true war heroes who are now being respected puts a new spin on it. PGA HOPE reaches out and makes us feel welcome.”

U.S. Army/Air Force Reserves Sgt. (Ret.) Homer Watts Jr. had the thrill of a lifetime.

“Oh my goodness,” Watts said. “He’s a legend. It was a total shock. I was very surprised. PGA HOPE is such an amazing program. It gets people out of the hospital and into other activities. You meet great instructors who take their time with you. It’s almost like family. Actually, it’s just like family.”

Joining them for instruction and the round of golf was 2022 South Florida PGA Section Patriot Award recipient Jerry Impellittiere, PGA Director of Instruction at Monarch Country Club in Palm City.

Impellittiere originally learned the game from PGA Professionals at West Point Golf Course and now pays it forward by teaching two PGA HOPE Programs.

He is known as “The Collector,” as he collects donated golf clubs to give to Veterans for them to learn and play the game. Ironically, Impellittiere once played in a grouping with Nicklaus and Dave Stockton at the B.C. Open, two players renowned for their putting.

“I didn’t make the cut, but I led the PGA TOUR in putting stats that year,” said Impellittiere.

Nicklaus has a long-held fondness for the nation’s military and the incredible sacrifices made by service members.

“These people have earned the help of all Americans,” said Nicklaus. “I enjoy doing this. I want to be a part of it, especially if it makes a difference. I am very honored.”

This year, PGA HOPE aims to impact the lives of over 7,500 Veterans through its transformational program led by PGA Professionals, and has set a goal of 36,000 annually by 2026.

In its sixth year, PGA National Day of HOPE is a month-long campaign running through Veterans Day. The campaign celebrates our nation’s heroes who protect our freedom, while raising awareness and support for PGA HOPE.

To support the 2022 National Day of HOPE Campaign, please visit the Official Fundraising Page.

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United Travel Credits Giving HBCU Golf Programs Wings, Expanding Range of Traditionally Underfunded Teams

NNPA NEWSWIRE — On Wednesday, some 23 years later, and on her 41st birthday, no less, Levister was at Memorial Park Golf Course to watch three of the players she coaches at Prairie View A&M University play in the pro-am at the Cadence Bank Houston Open. Christian Latham, who is working on his master’s degree in architecture, and seniors Rondarius Walters and Taylor Harvey, a member of the women’s team, would play with Phil Griffith, who is a vice president of operations for United Airlines’ Houston hub, and PGA TOUR pros Stewart Cink and Matthew NeSmith.

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Mesha Levister (second from left) was at Memorial Park Golf Course to watch three of the players she coaches at Prairie View A&M University play in the pro-am at the Cadence Bank Houston Open.
Mesha Levister (second from left) was at Memorial Park Golf Course to watch three of the players she coaches at Prairie View A&M University play in the pro-am at the Cadence Bank Houston Open.

By Helen Ross, PGA Tour, Special to NNPA Newswire

James Levister thought it would be a phase.

Sure, he was an avid golfer. A 4 handicap at his best, in fact.

But when he started his 3-year-old daughter, Mesha, playing golf, he figured she would eventually get tired of the game.

He was wrong, though. His daughter loved playing with her dad on weekends — she finally beat him when she was 16 and never lost again — and she thrived on the challenge of the game.

“It was our thing,” Mesha said. “I liked that it was hard, and I continued to play because it was hard. But for me, when I was small, it was about being with him and doing something different.”

She played four years of varsity golf and basketball at her Florida high school, got scholarship offers in both sports, and wanted to turn pro. Eventually, she had to choose between the two.

“I told my dad I would rather play golf because there are fewer people that look like me playing golf,” said Levister, who is African American. “I wanted to be a trendsetter…I felt like I had something to give in the game. I didn’t realize what it was back then as a little 17-year-old.”

On Wednesday, some 23 years later, and on her 41st birthday, no less, Levister was at Memorial Park Golf Course to watch three of the players she coaches at Prairie View A&M University play in the pro-am at the Cadence Bank Houston Open.

Christian Latham, who is working on his master’s degree in architecture, and seniors Rondarius Walters and Taylor Harvey, a member of the women’s team, would play with Phil Griffith, who is a vice president of operations for United Airlines’ Houston hub, and PGA TOUR pros Stewart Cink and Matthew NeSmith.

“I hope that they get an out-of-this-world experience that they may not have ever gotten — ever,” Levister said. “Or that it opens up their eyes to the maximum potential and drives them to be whatever they want to be.”

The pairing with Griffith is no accident. United Airlines, in partnership with the PGA TOUR, has earmarked more than $500,000 in grants to 55 golf teams at HBCUs like Prairie View.

Each school gets $10,000 in travel credits to bolster travel and recruiting budgets and potentially help more than 250 student-athletes compete in places that may have been out of reach.

United and the TOUR recently announced a multi-year extension of their official marketing relationship, extending the annual commitment to HBCUs through 2025.

Griffith also attended a clinic earlier this week in which golfers from another Houston-area HBCU, Texas Southern, worked with youngsters from the First Tee. He’s excited about the impact the grants are having.

“I’m very impressed with these kids and when I look at where I was back then, if you don’t know that something exists, yeah, it’s kind of hard for you to aspire for,” Griffith said. “And a lot of the things that these kids are doing today, I had no aspirations for because I just didn’t know.

“I think as we continue this program,” he added, “just opening their eyes and showing them valuable and effective ways of getting there, it’s going to be a lot of fun over the years. That’s what I’m hoping.”

All in it together

Levister coaches the men’s and women’s teams at Prairie View A&M, which is the second-oldest public university in Texas.

She’s also done double duty at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), as well as at Lincoln University in Jefferson, Missouri.

“It’s interesting to see the dynamic and be able to create a culture here of togetherness and make sure that everybody roots for everybody because we’re all one team,” Levister said.

Forging something of a non-traditional path is second nature to Levister. When the women’s team at her college in Florida disbanded, she was recruited by NCCU to play on its men’s team.

She played No.1 and was the team’s most valuable player as a freshman, also earning Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Rookie of the Year honors.

After 9/11, Levister left school and went home to Wash., D.C. She was the first African American to win the 2004 Virginia Women’s Amateur and was named the state’s female golfer of the year. She turned pro in 2006 and joined the Symetra Tour in 2010.

Life on the road could be lonely, though, particularly for a young woman who was often the only African American entered in an event.

“I’m still a golfer, regardless,” Levister said firmly. And she can’t shake the memory of being pulled over by a policeman in New York.

“The cop came over and asked the other tour player that was in the car, who was a white female, instead of asking the normal stuff, he asked the young lady that was in the passenger seat, ‘Are you OK?’” Levister said.

“So, for me that was a little bit of a traumatic experience…But he let me go. So, he really pulled me over just to check on the person in the car.”

After Levister’s father died in 2014, she decided to quit the tour.

She still competed, winning the 2015 EP Pro Women’s Championship, but began to focus on teaching. She joined the staff at NCCU in 2020 and helped start the women’s program before heading to Prairie View A&M.

She’s only been there about a month, but she already feels accepted by her players, who share her goal of returning the Panthers to dominance in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

And she wants to make it easier for others to follow her path.

“I am definitely all about how I take on life now,” Levister said. “I just want to be a good person, do the right thing and break glass ceilings for the next people behind me so they don’t have it as hard as I did.”

Keeping the program alive

When Prairie View A&M lost its golf coach last fall, Latham had just graduated magna cum laude, finishing his architecture degree in three years, and started working on his master’s.

But the team needed a coach, and Latham stepped up in a big way. “He really held the fort down last year for both of the teams,” Levister said.

Like Levister, Latham was a multi-sport athlete who started playing golf because of his dad. But his favorite sport was baseball — his grandfather Cliff Johnson played 20 years in the major leagues, including two World Series with the New York Yankees.

By the time Latham got to high school, though, he had become disillusioned with baseball. He endured racist taunts, many times from the adults and coaches who flat-out lied to him.

“I lost my passion for baseball,” he said. “I didn’t even want to play anymore. So that’s what really got me stuck into golf because it’s like at the end of the day, no one can else say anything about me as long as I’m shooting a score I need to shoot.

“So that’s how I really got into it. And I just focus on golf only now. That’s what brought me.”

The summer before he entered high school in Katy, Texas, a Houston suburb, Latham spent every day at the golf course.

He shot 111 in his first tournament, but by the end of the summer, he broke 80 for the first time.

With continued improvement, he began to think about playing in college and verbally committed to Prairie View A&M after his sophomore year.

In addition to studying for his master’s, where he’s designing a practice facility for the golf team as a class project, and hitting balls on the range, Latham is getting hands-on experience by working at an architecture firm several days a week.

He also has a 14-month-old son named Kai — who is full of “joy and happiness,” Latham said — half the week.

“He’s like my little twin,” Latham said. “So now I got him a plastic set of golf clubs and seeing him wanting to play with that is pretty cool.”

Just because he’s working on his master’s degree doesn’t mean Latham is giving up on his dream to play golf professionally, though.

He’s already played in one APGA event and hopes to play well enough this year to finish in the top five of its collegiate rankings, which would give him scholarship access to the tour’s events through the remainder of the 2023 season.

“I’m not going to just stop that goal and stop that dream,” he said.

“I’m going to still work hard this semester to try to get to that level or continue to just add on to where I should be.”

Giving players wings

With the travel credits provided by United, schools like Prairie View A&M will be able to compete in higher profile events that might otherwise seem out of reach — quite literally.

Levister, who once rode 11 hours from Durham, N.C. to Port St. Lucie, Florida, for a college tournament, has already started putting those credits to work.

“Even in the short time that I’ve been here, it’s saved us a tremendous amount of time and money just to be able to have access to go over to Houston Airport and to fly,” she said.

“Just to reduce costs of travel helps tremendously because now we can use those funds to give them a better experience as a student-athlete and a college golfer.”

Latham remembers a 15-hour bus ride from Houston to Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, where the Panthers played in — and won — the 2021 PGA Works Championship at TPC Sawgrass.

With two travel days each way and the tournament itself, the Black Panthers were gone nine days.

That’s why on Wednesday Latham planned to thank Griffith for United’s support. That United and organizations like the PGA TOUR are seeing value in HBCU golf has been a big help.

“I want to say it makes us feel more comfortable when we’re not having to travel,” Latham said, “cramped up for 14 hours, 16 hours, when we could just make a two-hour plane ride. And it makes an impact on the team.”

“I mean, we’ve had times to where people didn’t even have enough seats on the bus,” he continued, “and we’re just kind of all locked up or having to make multiple trips to get somewhere because we don’t have enough room to bring everybody.”

“So, it means a lot. Gives us the opportunity to try to feel more like a sports program because we see other sports programs get to travel like that. And we never necessarily got to.”

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Holiday Season Routinely Sees Rise in Human Trafficking

The number of persons convicted of a federal human trafficking offense increased from 2011 (464 persons) to 2019 (837 persons) before falling in 2020 (658 persons). Of the 1,169 defendants charged in U.S. district court with human trafficking offenses in the fiscal year 2020 — 92% were male, 63% were white, 18% were black, 17% were Hispanic, 95% were U.S. citizens, and 66% had no prior convictions.

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If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire

Federal prosecutors said the fight against human trafficking, a crime that harms some of the most vulnerable members of society, counts among their highest priorities.

“We are committed to vindicating the rights of human trafficking crime victims by bringing their traffickers to justice and working to ensure that survivors have access to restitution, services, and assistance that are needed to rebuild their lives,” U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg said in a statement.

U.S. Department of Justice officials maintain that their strong efforts continue to combat human trafficking.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Attorney General released the Department of Justice’s National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking.

The strategy laid out the Department’s multi-year plan to combat all forms of human trafficking, focusing on efforts to protect victims of trafficking, prosecute human trafficking cases, and prevent further acts of human trafficking.

The Human Trafficking Institute estimates that there are 24.9 million victims of human trafficking globally.

In 2020, the Institute reported that federal courts in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 4 U.S. territories handled 579 active human trafficking prosecutions, 94% of which were sex trafficking cases and 6% forced labor cases.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, individuals prosecuted for human trafficking increased from 729 in 2011 to 1,343 in 2020, an 84% rise.

The number of persons convicted of a federal human trafficking offense increased from 2011 (464 persons) to 2019 (837 persons) before falling in 2020 (658 persons). Of the 1,169 defendants charged in U.S. district court with human trafficking offenses in the fiscal year 2020 — 92% were male, 63% were white, 18% were black, 17% were Hispanic, 95% were U.S. citizens, and 66% had no prior convictions.

By the end of 2020, for the 47 states that reported data, 1,564 persons were in the custody of a state prison serving a sentence for a human trafficking offense.

The District of Columbia reported zero new criminal human trafficking cases filed in federal courts in 2021.

The advocacy organization Hope for Justice defines human trafficking as modern slavery, where one person controls another for profit by exploiting a vulnerability.

Victims usually are forced to work or are sexually exploited, and the trafficker keeps all or nearly all the money. The control can be physical, financial, or psychological.

ChildWelfare.com says the legal definition of trafficking involves “the exploitation of people through force, coercion, threat, and deception and includes human rights abuses such as debt bondage, deprivation of liberty, and lack of control over freedom and labor.”

The organization noted that trafficking could be for purposes of sexual exploitation or labor exploitation.

In 2004, officials formed the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force to increase the prosecution of traffickers while identifying and serving the victims.

The task force’s primary goal is to “facilitate a more coordinated anti-trafficking effort in the D.C. area through protocol development, extensive community outreach, proactive investigations, law enforcement training, intelligence sharing, and more formalized partnerships between law enforcement organizations and non-governmental organizations.”

Additionally, while the holiday season counts as a time of joy, happiness, and fun, the nonprofit Shero Foundation said for human trafficking victims, the holidays are no different from any other day.

Law enforcement officials said traffickers typically increase their illegal activities during the holiday season.

“We let our guard down because you’re supposed to be joyful, and, you know, it’s a great time of year. And unfortunately, we have people out there that don’t care what time of year it is,” Tony Mancuso, a sheriff in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, told reporters in a pre-Christmas interview in 2021.

“California is home to some of the largest hubs for sex and labor trafficking in the United States, and it is beyond the time our state takes the necessary steps in combatting this criminal enterprise,” Democratic Assemblymember Tim Grayson insisted.

Grayson noted that human trafficking was a $150 billion-a-year global industry and introduced a bill to establish the California Multidisciplinary Alliance to Stop Trafficking Act (California MAST).

The bill aims to examine and evaluate existing programs and outreach for survivors and victims of human trafficking and provide recommendations to strengthen California’s response to supporting survivors and holding offenders accountable.

“In my search for a better life, I found myself exploited by various individuals similar to other child trafficking survivors,” said Jimmy Lopez, survivor advocate for the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking. “Human trafficking is an invisible crisis plaguing our state and forcing thousands of children to grow up too fast; we must stop trafficking in its tracks, and we must hold offenders accountable,” Lopez said.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate.

Support is provided in more than 200 languages. Hotline officials said they are there to listen and connect those in need with the help required to stay safe. Callers can dial 711 to access the Hotline using TTY.

You can also email help@humantraffickinghotline.org.

To report a potential human trafficking situation, call the hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or submit a tip online here.

All communication with the hotline is strictly confidential.

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