Border Sex Trafficking Cases Should Challenge Sound of Freedom Skeptics

By Todd Bensman on August 4, 2023
stop human trafficking sign
Photo by Todd Bensman.

AUSTIN, Texas — The American left so hates this summer’s hit Sound of Freedom movie that their media have undertaken a campaign to discredit it. These generally assert that the film about a former ICE Homeland Security Investigations agent’s true-life crusade against cross-border child sex trafficking is largely untrue, exaggerates the problem, or fig-leafs QAnon conspiracy theories.

Rolling Stone magazine’s treatment of the film, for instance, described it as a “QAnon-tinged thriller” about child-trafficking designed to appeal to “conspiracy-addled” boomers. Zesty “strains of scaremongering ... lurk in the shadows around a film outwardly non-insane enough to lure in the persuadable,” the liberal British newspaper, The Guardian, wrote. Reflecting one of the more typical narratives, the Washington Post’s reviewer introduced data showing that older children are more trafficked than the really young ones depicted in the movie, so therefore the movie is too discreditable for viewing.

But perhaps this issue’s many partisan skeptics would find President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice more believable.

Since the film’s release, federal prosecutors under Biden’s Attorney General Merrick Garland have written horrifying child sex-trafficking tales into their prosecution of very recent court cases, which have received little-to-no media coverage or skepticism challenging their credibility. The details of these prosecutions are plenty horrifying enough to qualify for any Hollywood movie around Halloween time.

So would the FBI’s just-concluded July “Operation Cross Country” with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which rescued 200 sex trafficking victims, 59 of whom were minors, in just two weeks of trying.

“Sex traffickers exploit and endanger some of the most vulnerable members of our society and cause their victims unimaginable harm,” Attorney General Garland said in a prepared statement announcing the rescues of sex-trafficked children last month.

Rita Martinez and Genaro Fuentes
Rita Martinez and Genaro Fuentes.

“Human traffickers prey on the most vulnerable members of our society, and their crimes scar victims — many of them children — for life,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a press release.

Neither mention the obvious connection between this evil and their president’s open-border and asylum policies, which without doubt make it far easier for sex traffickers like Mission, Texas, prostitution madam Rita Martinez and her son Genaro Fuentes, both of whom have just pleaded guilty to sex trafficking charges filed last year, to smuggle underage girls over the border and promptly force them into sexual slavery.

This Martinez-Fuentes case and another recent one involving Cuban men who forced women they smuggled to prostitute themselves in Houston strip clubs show the inextricable bond between this odious form of human trafficking and lax border control and asylum policies. The lesson is that when border security is tight and fewer illegal immigrants are therefore crossing, less sex trafficking evil can be imported. Conversely, when border security and asylum policies are loose, more women and children will be trafficked, as has been the case under President Biden for nearly 30 months straight.

Bordello for Child Sexual Bondage in Mission, Texas

Location of Rita's Sports Bar
Location of Rita's Sports Bar.

From their well-known “Rita’s Sports Bar” in the Texas border town of Mission, Martinez and Genaro had cartel coyotes smuggle young girls and women over the Mexican border for 20 years and then, through violence and threats, pressed them into prostitution to pay off a smuggling debt that somehow never went away, according to their February 2022 indictment.

Starting in 1996 and continuing until her 2022 arrest, Martinez would recruit poor women and girls as young as 16 from the Mexican states of Durango and Coahuila with promises of good pay to work in her Mission restaurant or to clean houses, according to the indictment. Martinez would arrange for and pay the coyotes to smuggle them over the Texas border.

But the girls discovered a horrifying bait and switch within days of arriving at Rita’s Sports Bar ready to clean. She let the girls know Rita’s Sports Bar was really more like a bordello, that they owed her a smuggling debt, and they were not going to pay it off sweeping floors or selling cheap beer. They had to have sex with the customers on demand, dates that Martinez or her son would arrange at nearby motels. But they couldn’t just leave.

“Martinez used a variety of coercive means to keep the women and girls under her control, and to ensure that they would continue to engage in commercial sex with clients,” the indictment reads. “She saddled the victims with impossibly high debts, threatened to report them to immigration or the police, and warned them about the harm that might come to their families in Mexico.”

“She insulted and humiliated the women and girls,” it went on. “She physically assaulted them, including slapping, hitting, and dragging them by their hair, if they disobeyed her.”

Women who showed up with children were pressured to hand them over to Martinez’s “associates or family members”, either in the United States or Mexico to “babysit”, for which Martinez further “charged” the mothers and worse: She’d tell the moms they had to “work more in order to see the child”. Martinez took away one child and never again let the mother visit.

Martinez’s son, Fuentes, must have seemed to these victims an even worse monster. Encouraging his mother to beat the indentured girls and forcing them to buy condoms from him was the least of it.

“Fuentes would sexually assault women and girls who were newly arrived at his mother’s home, telling them that he had a right to try them,” the indictment said.

Court-ordered restitution amounts for victims, as taken from court records
Court-ordered restitution amounts for victims, as taken from court records.

The roster of victims had to have been much longer than the 14 listed in the government’s court filings. The profit was also notable. A plea agreement ordering restitution shows that Martinez will have to pay one victim $185,832, another $96,778, and four others more than $50,000 each.

Beyond the fact that these victims were always smuggled over the border, what is perhaps most notable is how many years this criminal operation went on — undiscovered and uninterrupted — in a small, close-knit border town like Mission. Certainly, no former ICE agent or private rescuer like Tim Ballard was around to investigate for more than two decades that this went on, to blow the whistle, or to rescue these girls.

Sex Trafficking in Houston Strip Clubs Revealed

If the events portrayed in Sound of Freedom are not to be believed because its lead actor is weird or its backers too “right-wing” and Christian, the events described by the Biden Department of Justice in yet another very recent case should do just as well to connect this scourge to open-borders policies. Here is another where border and asylum policies figured prominently.

On July 13, a federal judge in Texas sentenced three Cuban nationals for smuggling at least 20 Cuban girls and women over the southern border and then forcing them into prostitution to pay off their forever debts in Houston strip clubs. And not by dancing for customers.

Rasiel Gutierrez Moreno, 38; Hendry Jimenez Milanes, 39; and Rafael Mendoza Labrada, 29, ran the scheme from Houston starting in at least 2017. Prior to crossing the southern border themselves in 2015, Milanes and Moreno had worked as pimps in Cuba before making their way to the American border and claiming asylum, each with an underage girl they’d forced into prostitution back in Cuba. Both men met up in Houston and put the girls to work at prostitution in at least three Houston-area strip clubs, taking all their earnings to ostensibly pay off their smuggling debt. The men frequently beat these girls or threatened to.

Prior to gaining work authorization, many illegal immigrant women find that they can work in strip clubs if they pay the managers to look the other way. That’s how the scheme was able to proceed.

Once Moreno and Milanes gained their own unspecified immigration status in the United States, they began expanding their operations by smuggling Cuban women in over the southern border.

One or both of the Cuban men would recruit women while on “vacation” trips to Cuba, according to a complaint by the Diplomatic Security Services agent who investigated. They’d tell their female prospects that, for $7,000 or $8,000, they could arrange smuggling from Cuba through Ecuador and eventually to the port of entry at Laredo, Texas, where they could claim asylum. As a bonus, the men would get the girls jobs as fully clothed “salsa dancers” in Houston where they could make good money.

“I dedicate myself to taking women to the United States,” Moreno told one victim in Cuba, adding that he also would “provide clothing, a job, and a place to live”.

Often the men met the women in Mexico and traveled with them to the Laredo port of entry with coached instructions on what to say for their respective asylum claims. They’d meet the women upon their release from ICE custody under lax asylum practices a few days later.

But once released, the women learned that the $7,000 they thought they paid was now $30,000. They also learned the men considered this a debt owed, and that they would not be free until they’d paid in full. Many of the women were held in Houston-area apartments with one or more of the men, who kept them under constant supervision as they were sold for sex at strip clubs.

“During the car ride to Houston, Moreno told [one victim identified as F.C.R.] she would have to dance and prostitute herself at Playmates Caberet,” the complaint said. Before long, Moreno was raping the woman in the apartment.

“Moreno routinely threated to cause physical harm to F.C.R. and/or her family in Cuba if she ever crossed him,” the complaint said, adding that he threatened to shoot her with a pistol he possessed.

The men charged customers at the strip clubs $300 for 30 minutes of sex with their women, or $600 for an hour. F.C.R. had to work seven days a week and handed Moreno $1,400 a week. The men beat these women regularly, or threatened to, and would not set them free.

“Milanes beat Victim 5 so badly that she had bruises and could not work for some days,” an agent complaint described.

Over the four months she was held before a former boyfriend helped her flee to Florida, the victim handed over $18,000. She was allowed out of the apartment once a month “socially” during that time. She had to use her $445 a month in food stamps to feed the men and also to pay the electric bill, cook, and clean.

But Moreno chased the victim down in Miami and called her family in Cuba, demanding that she pay the final $12,000. Or else.

“He explained that bringing Cuban women to the United States was his only business,” the complaint recounted. “He warned that he could not allow Victim 1 to leave Houston without paying her debt, because the other women working for him would know.”

Liberal skeptics of the Song of Freedom movie will no doubt continue their assault on its underlying credibility.

But will they also cast doubt on the underlying credibility of the stories told in these and quite a few other federal court cases besides, prosecuted under Democratic sail?

Even without the movie, maybe these cases can still elevate the human trafficking problem as the border security issue it is to a policy priority that Democrats can accept alongside Republicans.