HOUSTON — Houston’s airport system is the first in the country to officially join a federal campaign against human trafficking.

On Wednesday at City Hall, Mayor Sylvester Turner and officials from U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Houston Airport System is joining the Blue Lightning Campaign.

Employees at the city’s three airports will be trained on how to spot and report possible traffickers and their victims to the right authorities.

The partnership is an expansion of an existing human trafficking awareness effort the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees CBP, and the U.S. Department of Transportation launched with airlines in 2012.

“This was actually recently demonstrated here at the Houston airport where TSA encountered a young child, a 17-year-old, that was on his way to New York City unaccompanied,” said Judd Murdock, of CBP’s Houston office. “We were able to determine that that child was being moved to New York City to participate in nefarious activity, and that young man is now in a safe location.”

Murdock said Homeland Security Investigations did over 800 investigations nationwide in 2018, leading to more than 1,000 arrests.

Bush Intercontinental, Hobby Airport, and Ellington Field make up the country’s fourth-largest multi-airport system, with more than 58 million passengers in 2018. It’s exactly the kind of busy, public place officials say human traffickers and their victims hide in plain sight.

“The average age of a trafficking victim is 12,” said Mayor Turner. “To hear that as a parent, as a Houstonian, as a citizen of the United States and the world, that just breaks all of our hearts, and it motivates us to fight on.”

In Houston, city employees’ training will take an hour on the warning signs of trafficking and how to report it. That includes a 17-minute-long video.

“This is a ‘See Something Say Something’ campaign on steroids,” said Murdock.

City leaders hope this new partnership inspires other U.S. airports to join in.

Houston has also trained other city employees, including around 1,200 in public health, to spot sex and labor trafficking.

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