Hidden human trafficking problem

AMARILLO, TX - Drug cartels and human trafficking have recently become problems here in Texas and across the Panhandle.

Last month we told you how 6 of 7 drug cartels have established bases here in Texas.

But cartel members are not just smuggling narcotics across the border, they're taking human lives with them.

What is still a growing problem thousands of miles away, has now trickled continents over into our state.

"In the United States about 15,000 people are trafficked each year," Dr. Whitt Walker with Texas Tech said. "It's felt that about 3,000 of those come through Texas."

Of those 3,000 people who are smuggled across Texas, not all survive.

"A lot of these people are not treated well," Walker said. "They're beaten and one child I met in Ghana had his eye cut with a machete."

Walker recently took a trip to Ghana over the summer to see the human trafficking and slavery problem there first hand.

The subject interests him because it's literally happening all over the world, and possible in our own backyard.

"Child trafficking is the third most lucrative trafficking item in the nation behind guns and drugs," he said.

"I-40 is a major corridor for drug transportation," Texas DPS Trooper Gabriel Medrano said.

Although we have not had large human trafficking busts here in Amarillo like other parts of the state, with I-40 being a confirmed drug route, Dr. Walker believes the problem could very well be here.

"The drug cartels know where to bring drugs across," he said. "Therefore, they know how to bring a person or 20 people across."

And like catching drug smugglers, it's hard to nab human traffickers.

"It's a common problem with 15,000 people coming here it's difficult to stop," Walker said.

He fears the activity could eventually land here in Amarillo if we aren't vigilant about the problem.

"I believe with I-40, trafficked children are probably coming through here," he said. "We are certainly closer to El Paso than Houston and it could happen in Lubbock, Odessa or anywhere," he said.

Earlier this year, Governor Rick Perry signed a bill making human trafficking a first degree felony.

If convicted, smugglers could face anywhere from 25 to 99 years in prison.