How long have you been in public service, and what do you like most about your duties as a public service?
I have been in public service as a prosecutor at the local, state and federal levels for about 40 years, since I was licensed in November 1980. I have served as an Assistant City of Houston Attorney, a Harris County Assistant District attorney and an Assistant United States Attorney. Currently, I serve as the Bureau Chief of Special Crimes under elected Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg.
As a public servant, my duty is to protect and uphold the Constitution, ensuring that justice is served. I am very proud to be a voice for those who are often voiceless. It is an honor to ensure that regardless of status, every
person in our country, is protected under our laws.
Where does Harris County rank compare to other metropolitan areas in the United States in human trafficking?
In my opinion, Harris County has been erroneously labeled as the Human Trafficking Hub of the United States. Harris County has been very proactive in prosecuting human trafficking cases. The Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance, which I co-founded in 2004, combines local, state and federal law enforcement partners with non-governmental agencies to prosecute human traffickers and to rescue and restore
victims. Human Trafficking is a global problem. Because we have
been very aggressive and successful in prosecuting human traffickers, Houston is perceived to be the Hub of Human Trafficking. I like
to think we are the Hub of Human Trafficking Prosecutions, not the Hub of Human Trafficking.
What’s the hardest part about getting a conviction in a human trafficking case? Are victims sometimes reluctant to testify?
One of the hardest parts of prosecution is the actual reporting of the trafficking and the crimes perpetrated against the victims because of the trauma human trafficking victims suffer. Many victims come from impoverished countries, or are lured into the United States under the false pretense of a better life. Once they arrive, they are manipulated into prostitution or hard labor against their will. Victims are constantly threatened with violence to themselves or loved ones. Because of
this, many victims become reluctant to report their traffickers and pursue legal action. Often times, victims are unaware they have the right to report their traffickers and the crimes perpetrated against them. If there is no reporting, there is no prosecution.
What happens to an undocumented victim of human trafficking?
For undocumented victims of human trafficking, there are some immigration benefits to those who qualify. To qualify, a person must be a victim of human trafficking and willing to assist in the prosecution of the human trafficker. Benefits include T-Visas, U-Visas and continued presence. A T-Visa is specifically designated for undocumented victims of trafficking. The U- visa is designated for victims of other crimes which includes human
trafficking. These visas can grant the applicant victim legal status, work authorization and a pathway to citizenship. The purpose of these visas is not only to provide legal status, but to encourage reporting so that human trafficking criminals can be prosecuted and victims can seek justice.
What are the youngest and oldest victims of sex trafficking have you seen?
Human Trafficking is nondiscriminatory. I have seen ages range
from thirteen to the late fifties. The trafficker does not care about the
age so long as the victim makes money for the trafficker. I have always said that a human being is more valuable than a kilo of cocaine because once a kilogram of cocaine is consumed, it is gone. On the contrary, a human being, either a male or a female can be recycled again and again, perpetually making more money for the trafficker.
If a person thinks he or she has witnessed sex trafficking, what should that person do?
Any potential witness should call 1-888-373-7888. This is a national hotline to report human trafficking. It is important to note, the hotline is anonymous so no one should fear retaliation for reporting what could be human trafficking.
However, if the person believes the victim is in immediate danger, he or she should call 911.
If a person reading this interview is the victim of human trafficking, what should that person do?
If anyone reading this believes he or she is a victim of human trafficking, please call the hotline (1-888-373-7888) or contact any law enforcement agency. Again, 911 should always be called if there is any indication, however slight, of immediate danger.
What steps should the government take to reduce human
First, we should be making victims aware of the rights and protections they have under the laws of our government. Many steps are being taken and continue to be taken to reduce human trafficking. Congress enacted the
Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) as a protection for victims. It is the most comprehensive federal law enacted to protect victims, both foreign and domestic, of sex trafficking and to prosecute their traffickers. Texas enacted its first Human Trafficking statute in 2003.
I strongly believe, to combat and reduce human trafficking, public perceptions will have to change. Until society can overcome the misconception that human trafficking does not happen in their neighborhoods and the victims of trafficking want to be prostitutes, the battle will continue. The efforts of the justice system, non-governmental organizations, and non-profit organizations to research and document
the problem, prosecute human traffickers, rescue and restore victims and educate the community will be steps to reduce human trafficking.
About Ruben R. Perez
Ruben R. Perez is a native of Seguin, Texas and moved to Houston, Texas to pursue his legal career. He received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1974 from Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.
He studied International Law at the London School of Economics, in London, England in 1978. He received his law degree from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in 1980.
Ruben has served Harris County and the Southern District of Texas as a prosecutor for almost 40 years. In 1980 he began his career in Houston as an Assistant City Attorney. In 1981 he made his way to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. He spent 11 years serving as an Assistant District Attorney and was promoted to Chief Prosecutor during his tenure. He prosecuted numerous felonies and death penalty cases. He then became
an Assistant United States Attorney in 1992. During his 25 years as a federal prosecutor, his case docket ranged from narcotics, money laundering, public corruption, hate crimes, civil rights and human trafficking. In 2017,
he returned to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office under
elected Harris District Attorney Kim Ogg where he serves as Bureau Chief of Special Crimes.
As a federal prosecutor, Mr. Perez successfully investigated and prosecuted several high profile human trafficking cases. The following are a few examples of his human trafficking prosecutions. He was the lead prosecutor in the largest human trafficking case ever prosecuted in the continental United States. Over one-hundred victims of human trafficking were rescued and eight defendants were prosecuted. All eight defendants were sentenced
to prison sentences. He was also the lead prosecutor in a precedent
setting human trafficking case where ten defendants were sentenced to prison and their assets forfeited with the goal of liquidating the forfeited assets to help the victims. He was responsible for the successful prosecution of fourteen defendants (U.S. v. Hortencia Arguello-Medeles aka “Tencha”, et al) who operated a sex trafficking ring. All were convicted and sentenced to prison and fifteen properties with a value of $2.5 million were forfeited with the goal of using these monies to help the victims. The lead defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment. There is one remaining fugitive. There is a $50,000 reward for his capture. This case and the remaining fugitive were featured in “The Hunt” with John Walsh on CNN. He was responsible for the successful prosecution of an international sex trafficking ring. This prosecution involved six defendants. He prosecuted five defendants in 2005. The lead defendant was a fugitive. He was arrested in March 2010 in Mexico. He was extradited to the United States in June 2014 in a precedent setting cooperation of Mexican and American authorities. He was sentenced to 40 years imprisonment.
Since returning to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office as Bureau Chief of the Special Crimes Bureau, he has led numerous investigations and prosecutions cases which have resulted in making our communities safer. When Mr. Perez is not crushing crime, he enjoys spending time with his wife of 42 years and their two children, both of whom are lawyers.
• 2019 Joe Campos Torres Justice Award – Mexican American Bar Association
• 2004, 2010, and 2013-Director’s Award-Executive Office for United States Attorneys – Department of Justice
• 2012 Texas State University Distinguished Alumni Award
• Numerous commendations from the FBI, IRS, Homeland Security, Bureau of Prisons and DEA
• Tejano Music Hall of Fame Inductee
• Frequent lecturer on Civil Rights/Narcotics/Human Trafficking and Criminal Justice matters
• Human Trafficking International Seminars – Paraguay, Chile, Mexico, Republic of Kyrgyzstan
• “Challenges in Federal Sex Trafficking Prosecution” www.thehoustonlawyer.com