LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- The loss of funding for Catholic Charities of Arkansas is forcing the agency to cut services for human trafficking victims.
The non-profit's immigration office works to help victims legalize their status and get them back on their feet after fleeing captivity.
Catholic Charities is the only accredited non-profit in the state providing low cost immigration services and for most of their clients, becoming legal citizens is only a part of their struggle. Many have been forced into labor or sex slavery here in Arkansas and come to Catholic Charities for help.
"We have a very large program that helps immigrant victims of crime including domestic violence, sexual assaults, stalking and human trafficking," says Maricella Garcia, the Director ofImmigration Services at Catholic Charities. She works daily with survivors of sex and labor trafficking--who may not know what state they are in or how they got here.
"They need someone to help them understand how to get a house. How do you rent a house? How do you get utilities turned on? Where do you go to buy groceries? They've been kept. They are not allowed out," says Garcia.
There is a misconception that human trafficking only happens on interstate highways, when in fact it could be happening in your own neighborhood.
Reagan Stanford, Crime Victim Services Coordinator, says human trafficking doesn't involve traveling at all.
"The actual crime itself is the exploitation of a person for profit so it doesn't not have to involve any kind of movement across state lines, international borders or any movement at all," says Stanford.
The fight Garcia and her team face is now a monetary one. While a small donation closet provides clothing for the victims, the funds to help them start a new life are no longer available.
"The grant that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had is that they provided direct assistance money. That could help a victim pay for rent or help them pay for food. We don't have that capability anymore," says Garcia. "There is a lot of victims that we aren't seeing, that aren't being identified and who aren't receiving services and now we're going to have to reduce services as well."
The National Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program discontinued that grant for the U.S. Bishops when they refused to refer clients for a quote, "full range of gynecological services" including abortions.
Catholic Charities says they're currently assisting five victims of human trafficking through their office. They will continue to guide them through the immigration process until they gain citizenship if funds remain available.
If you would like to make a clothing, monetary or other donation, contact Immigration Services at Catholic Charities of Arkansas.