Human trafficking is a crime that reaches a broad spectrum of victims — teenage runaways, the homeless, undocumented workers and even "kids who hang out at the mall every day," Mike Carroll, interim secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, said Monday at the first meeting of the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking.
Many victims are also foster care kids who are under state care or have aged out of the state system and have nowhere to go, Carroll, the council's vice chair, said.
Florida has been ranked third in the number of calls received by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which estimates there are 27 million people enslaved worldwide.
"Four years ago, no one wanted to believe this existed," said Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has reached out to truckers, emergency medical workers, business owners, law enforcement and recently Mexican authorities to fight human trafficking. "It has to be stopped."
Bondi is counting on the new panel with law enforcement, health care officials, educators, advocates and experts to help fight the crime. The trafficking council, which Bondi chairs, was created during the 2014 legislative session to tackle specific goals in the human trafficking realm, including recommending programs and services to help victims; certifying safe houses and safe foster care homes; recommending ways to better apprehend and prosecute traffickers; and organizing a statewide summit.
Terry Coonan, a council member and executive director of the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, said he was encouraged by the qualifications of the group. "There's such high-level buy-in on this issue," Coonan said. "These are very committed members. We don't have to do a course in human trafficking 101. It's my hope they'll really take Florida to the next level."
Other council members are state Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong; Elizabeth Dudek, secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration; Gerald Bailey, executive director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; Christina Daly, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice interim secretary; Education Commissioner Pam Stewart; Martin County Sheriff William Snyder; Dotti Groover-Skipper, chairwoman of the Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking; Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring; Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami: Lee Lowry, former president of the Junior League of Tampa; and Springfield Police Chief Philip Thorne.
Dreamers chide Rubio
Dreamers showed up to Sen. Marco Rubio's office in Doral on Tuesday morning to protest his calls to end deferred action, the Obama administration program that has given legal status to hundreds of thousands of undocumented youth.
"Deport me, no way," they chanted. "Undocumented and here to stay."
The group carried signs, including a huge cutout of a flip-flop. Another depicted Rubio as a border patrol agent. And another accused him of breaking up families.
Rubio had once worked on a similar idea, based on the stalled Dream Act, as the deferred action program but never produced the legislation. He criticized President Barack Obama for doing it through executive action, so he says he's being consistent in opposition to deferred action.
He joined recent calls to end the program amid new attention to southern border crossings.
"My view is that after two years you haven't applied for (deferred action), you probably are not interested in the program," Rubio said in a recent interview with the Tampa Bay Times and other Florida reporters.
Obama is working on a plan that could expand deferred action.