Israel and Texas may not seem to have much in common upon initial thought. After all, the State of Texas is approximately 33 times the size of Israel, yet, both lands face human trafficking concerns due to their international borders. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) defines “severe human trafficking” as:
“sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person … has not attained 18 years of age; or the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion … A victim need not be physically transported from one location to another for the crime to fall within this definition.”
In Texas, the border with Mexico spans 1254 miles (2018 km) comprising the longest stretch of border with Mexico when compared to any other state. In comparison, Israel has 664 miles (1068 km) of border with 6 different border countries. Specifically, the Israel-Egypt border has a long history of human trafficking. This article explores both governments’ approaches to human trafficking and border security.
The State of Texas has battled with human trafficking across the Mexico border for decades. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates as many as one-quarter of all human trafficking victims pass through Texas. A University of Texas study found that there are 313,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas. Texas also houses the metroplex of Houston, which the Department of Justice has called the “most intense jurisdiction for trafficking in the U.S.”.
There are two primary factors that contribute to the issue of trafficking in Texas. The Mexico border, along with the major thoroughfares in Houston, the 4th largest city in the U.S., creates a prime environment for traffickers to smuggle humans into the United States. However, Texas has proven to be proactive in seeking to prosecute, prevent, and punish the crime of human trafficking. The U.S. Attorney Office for the Southern District of Texas, encompassing 44,000 square miles and 8.3 million people, “prosecutes more cases against defendants than any other United States Attorney Office nationwide.” Additionally, Texas has received a score of 94 and an “A” from Shared Hope International’s Protected Innocence Project report in 2016. Not surprisingly, Texas is not the only land faced with human trafficking concerns due to an international border.
Israel also experienced a major problem with human trafficking, especially in the 1990s when sex trafficking was rampant. Most victims of the sex trafficking epidemic were women from the Former Soviet Union who were exploited because of their poverty. A wake-up call came when the U.S. State Department placed Israel alongside Pakistan and Bahrain in Tier 3 of the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report in 2001. Tier 3 is the lowest possible level in the TIP Report and is an indication that a country is doing close to nothing to combat human trafficking within its borders. This spurred the Israeli authorities, along with anti-trafficking NGOs and advocates, to begin addressing the problem of trafficking. Between 2003 and 2005, Israel amended several laws to provide more support for trafficking victims, including legal representation and access to shelters. Israeli authorities also began to crack down on traffickers. As a result of their significant efforts to prevent and prosecute human trafficking, Israel was moved to Tier 2 of the TIP Report in 2002. The Knesset subcommittee on Combatting Human Trafficking and Prostitution chairwoman, Aliza Lavie, celebrated the improvements in the fight against modern-day slavery, however she noted that the progress “does not mean we can stop fighting.” Accordingly, a breakthrough in the fight against trafficking came with the construction of the southern border fence with Egypt.
Border Security by The Numbers
In 2013, Israel completed construction of a 150-mile (245 km) fence along its border with Egypt. The number of illegal crossers on the Israel-Egypt border dropped 99 percent after the construction of the fence, from more than 16,000 in 2011 to less than 20 in 2016. Israel spent $415 million ($2.9 million per mile) to construct the southern border fence and spends approximately $8.3 million annually ($58,000 per mile) to maintain the fence. For every 1.2 miles of fencing, Israel stations one person along its border with Egypt.
Although the United States does not have a complete border fence with Mexico, the U.S. has spent $2.3 billion to construct 654 miles of pedestrian and vehicle barrier fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. Further, it costs the U.S. $50 to $55 million annually ($77,000 per mile) to maintain its 650 miles of fencing along the border with Mexico. This cost of maintenance is 33 percent more than Israel. Manpower is not neglected either, with approximately one person stationed for every 2.2 miles of the Mexico border. With these numbers in mind, a comparison of human trafficking in Texas and Israel is more easily understood.
Human Trafficking Today in Texas and Israel
In 2017, both the United States and Israel received a Tier 1 ranking in the U.S. Department of State’s TIP Report. Although Tier 1 is the highest level on the tier system, it does not mean there is no human trafficking in that country. Unfortunately, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, the issue of trafficking is not going away any time soon. Notably, in the 2017 Texas Public Safety Threat Overview, trafficking is the fastest growing organized crime in Texas. Although Israel may no longer be a haven for sex traffickers, trafficking still exists. With the closed borders, traffickers now bring victims into Israel through the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. According to the Border Control Commissioner, over the past year and a half, 372 women have been stopped from entering through Ben Gurion Airport. Michal Yusupov, head of the Population Control Division, noted that the number of women attempting to enter Israel has increased in the past year. Even though all 372 women were prohibited from entering, it is likely that others have entered under the guise of tourism without being stopped. Even still, the 2017 TIP Report noted Israel’s “serious and sustained” efforts to eliminate trafficking. Some countries are now looking to Israel’s successful fight against trafficking to learn what strategies are most effective.
What Can Texas Learn From Israel
Reports supporting the building of a fence on the United States-Mexico border often use Israel’s success with the Israel-Egypt border fence as an example. Although the U.S., and especially Texas, can learn many important border security lessons from Israel due to the similarities in human trafficking, there are complications that are often forgotten in these reports. Take, for example, the sheer length of the U.S.-Mexico border which is drastic in comparison to the Israel-Egypt border. As previously mentioned, Israel’s border stretches approximately 150 miles, while just the Texas-Mexico border is over 1200 miles. Another complication arises from the fact that the U.S.-Mexico border runs alongside four states, all with varying opinions on border security. The bordering states of New Mexico and California both have laws that limit how local police interact with federal immigration agents—also known as sanctuary cities. The two other border states, Arizona and Texas, do not have such laws. This discrepancy makes a unified plan for border security difficult to draft and implement.
Despite the challenges, much progress can be made in U.S. border security based on Israel’s success when the beforementioned nuances are taken into consideration. For instance, technology has proven to be key in monitoring and capturing traffickers in Israel. Israel uses an array of technology including seismic sensors, radars, and balloons with cameras to reinforce its southern border fence. The Port Authority of Texas has taken note of Israel’s use of technology. In 2014, Texas contracted with an Israeli company, RADWIN, to use advanced cameras to monitor ports-of-entry into the United States. The modern tactic to combat human trafficking is combined governmental efforts and advanced technology. Texas may not be able to copy-cat Israel’s border fence; however, this does not mean the U.S. cannot use Israel as an example to find the most effective border security strategy unique to the Texas-Mexico border.