Local researchers say human trafficking continues to be a growing concern across the nation, especially in the Rio Grande Valley.

Jennifer Clark is an associate professor of political science at South Texas College and the co-chair of a two-day human trafficking conference in McAllen. 

Clark says when people migrate, they may often fall victim to a human trafficker or smuggler who holds them against their will or forces them to work. 

“We’re the epicenter of migration,” Clark said. “So we have a lot of migrants coming from Central America. We have a lot of people from the United States being deported, and so they’re being pushed back. Those people are the most vulnerable.”

Clark says advocating a living wage for people is one approach to combating the issue. 

“If people had a living wage and opportunities, then we wouldn’t have trafficking– and that’s up to governments to do their part and that’s going to take a long time to happen,” said Clark. “So, until that happens, we’re still going to have a lot of people who are vulnerable and end up being trafficked.” 

The director of Tamar’s Tapestry, a rescue shelter for women, tells CBS 4 News many of the victims she sees are not just migrants, but young women who are solicited online. 

“We will take care of them, house them for anywhere from one hour up until two weeks, provide the services that they need, medical, psychological, counseling–mostly we just love on them,” said the director of Tamar’s Tapestry.

Site coordinator at the Boys and Girls Club of McAllen Myra Casas says the organization offers girls ages nine to 19 a leadership program called Smart Girls, which focuses on topics like hygiene, job opportunities, and human trafficking awareness.

“Girls want the attention,” Casas said. “They’re approached by strangers or they’re approached by other people that they think they can trust in: texting, social media, all these things. People that they think they’ve held a relationship or a bond with, but they really don’t.”

A two-day human trafficking conference hosted by South Texas College in McAllen focuses on the new ways human trafficking is being conducted in the twenty-first century. The conference is free to the public and will continue through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Cooper Center.