| Nov 03 2011
WASHINGTON — In Immokalee, a dozen Hispanics spent long days in the fields then were forced to sleep in a rental truck. In Boca Raton, Filipino workers pulled grueling shifts at country clubs then returned home as captives, fed rotten chicken and denied medical attention.
Stories like these from recent years in Florida are chilling examples of human trafficking — an issue officials say is growing but often overlooked.
"It's a much bigger problem than I think most people are aware of and Florida, unfortunately, plays a role," said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
The state, in fact, is considered one of the hotbeds for human trafficking in the U.S., where each year up to 20,000 people are brought against their will or under false pretenses and forced to work or held captive.
Rubio said he wants to use his Senate platform to call more attention to the issue. The problem is most associated with prostitution, but forced labor is more common in Florida. A year ago in Pinellas County, FBI and local officials found 27 people living in two homes and suspected they were being forced to work at a Country Super Buffet. The case is still under investigation.
"People think slavery is something that happened 150 years ago and to the extent it's happening, they think it's happening halfway around the world, which it is," Rubio said in an interview. "But it's also happening here."