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Special agent from AG's Office leads presentation

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SHIPROCK — A conference here today focused on the crime of human trafficking on the Navajo Nation.

Human trafficking is the illegal recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person with the intent to hold the person captive or exploit the individual for labor, services or body parts.

Joshua Lynn, a special agent for the human trafficking unit under the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General, spoke about the task force's work, including prevention, prosecution and protection, to address the issue in the state.

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Human trafficking is a $32 billion industry worldwide — the second-most profitable industry behind drug trafficking — and it continues to increase because it exploits a "reusable commodity," Lynn said.

"I know it's terrible thinking about a person like that, but that's what these traffickers are doing," he said to an audience comprised of residents and personnel from social services, public health and law enforcement agencies.

While it is difficult to know how many victims of human trafficking there are in New Mexico, the task force does investigate each tip reported to the AG's Office, Lynn added.

The task force also works with nongovernmental organizations and victim advocacy groups, where a majority of referrals come from, due to victims fearing to report such activity to law enforcement or carrying a sense of distrust for officials, he said.

While the unit has jurisdiction across the state, it has limited authority to address human trafficking on the reservation, but it can work cases through the FBI or the Navajo Nation police.

Navajo Nation officials enacted a law against human trafficking in August 2017. The measure allows tribal courts to exercise jurisdiction for crimes related to human trafficking committed by Native and non-Natives when a federal law enforcement agency or a federal court declines or does not exercise jurisdiction to prosecute the crime.

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Nageezi Chapter member Paula-Marie Herbert attended the conference to learn more about human trafficking and to share resources with the community.

"Navajo Nation, to me, is changing in the way that we are proactively taking these things into our own hands," Herbert said.

Letitia Moon is an advocate with the Navajo Nation Missing Persons Updates, a Facebook page that posts information about missing tribal members.

There are 28 people listed on the page, including four from the Four Corners area, and information is provided by family members and verified by law enforcement, she said.

Moon became involved with the group after finding the page on social media.

"A lot of these Native families don't have a voice, and they don't know where to go," Moon said.

The conference was organized by the Strengthening Families Program, a service under the Navajo Nation Division of Social Services.

Elarina Nakai, a community involvement specialist for the program, said the conference is part of an initiative to educate community members about human trafficking.

The program is developing a presentation about human trafficking in the Navajo language, and there are plans to use it for events across the reservation, Nakai said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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