The authorities in the US have arrested 29 individuals accused of forcing Mexican and Central American women into prostitution after helping them cross the border illegally.
Fifteen possible victims have been identified, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said.
The crackdown on the sex-trafficking of Latin American women, dubbed “Operation Safe Haven” led to the arrest in 13 cities of 29 individuals now facing charges that could lead to any of a range of sentences, from paying a $250,000 fine to life imprisonment.
The investigation took 15 months after its initiation in July 2014, when special agents of Homeland Security Investigations discovered an organised network of people in the cities of Savannah and Moultrie, both in the state of Georgia.
“This investigation identified women victimized through fraud, force and coercion, including underage teens,” Atlanta HSI agent Nick S. Annan said.
Under the protection of the US government, the victims are receiving emergency medical care, food and shelter.
While the criminal trial of those responsible for running the prostitution ring proceeds, the women can remain in the US and apply for the T-visas provided for victims of trafficking who collaborate with the justice system. They are allowed to stay in the country for three years before applying for permanent residence.