State lawmakers propose changes to strengthen human trafficking laws
SANTA FE, N.M. – Human trafficking is a difficult crime to tackle and two Democratic state representatives say New Mexico’s current laws aren’t making it any easier.
There have been several proposals over the years to update them, but now, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is backing the initiative, and she’s not the only state leader who wants this.
“It’s as if we’re reaching a critical mass of law enforcement and public policy people saying, ‘We want this to be done,’” state Rep. Marian Matthews said.
Matthews and fellow state Rep. Liz Thomson say their proposed changes to New Mexico’s human trafficking laws are an effort to make sure the human victims receive proper justice.
“When I first got involved in carrying this bill, it was finding out that you spent more than the penalty, penalties were worse for trafficking substances than for trafficking humans, and I thought that was just not okay,” said Thomson.
That’s why they’re proposing to increase the penalties for human trafficking suspects to first and second-degree felonies — the most serious categories.
Matthews says their proposed changes will also provide very clear definitions of human trafficking and sex trafficking, while also increasing the age cut-off for crimes against children to 18. Current law only goes up to 16.
“Another important piece of it is that the victims will no longer be able to be prosecuted for prostitution or other crimes, when they’re they’re actually victims, we think it’s wrong to try to put them in jail for something that was out of their control,” Thomson said.
A spokesperson with the Attorney General’s Office confirmed there were at least 70 human trafficking victims identified in New Mexico in 2023, and there are still active investigations into some of those cases.
Data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline shows there have been more than 1,000 human trafficking victims across 450 cases in New Mexico since 2007.
“I was struck by how many different communities we have that are impacted by this crime, and it’s not just an Albuquerque problem or a border problem. It is a statewide problem,” said Matthews.
She says it’s only getting worse.
“Cartels know their biggest moneymaker is human trafficking, not fentanyl or drugs,” Matthews said.
The Attorney General’s Office says it fully supports the proposed changes and the governor made it one of her public safety initiatives, but that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal.
“It’s always difficult to get a bill with tough penalties through the legislature but given the nature of the crime that I’m hopeful we can do it,” said Matthews.