Walking in Memphis

Since when has Memphis, Tenn. – the heart of America’s heartland – been a place for brothels and human trafficking?  

 “They’ve got catfish on the table. They’ve got gospel in the air,” Marc Cohn sings in his 1990s hit “Walking in Memphis” where he becomes nostalgic for America’s Bible belt. “Tell me are you a Christian child,” And I said ‘Ma’am I am tonight.” 

But Memphis wasn’t so wholesome for the little girl Fernando Reyes-Santillan, of Memphis, Tenn. and his conspirators enslaved. Reyes-Santillan pleaded guilty to one count of commercial sex trafficking of a minor, the Justice Department reported on January 11.  

Seven other defendants have pleaded guilty to sex trafficking and commercial sex charges in connection with brothels operated in this Memphis trafficking ring. Four other defendants remain under indictment in the same case for crimes including child sex trafficking, conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, conspiracy to commit money laundering, enticing an individual to travel in interstate commerce to commit prostitution, and failure to file a factual statement about an alien.  

The suspects admitted that neither they nor any of the other operators of the brothels had filed a factual statement with the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization setting forth the names of the aliens, the place at which they were kept, the date of their entry into United States, their ports of entry, or their ages, nationality or parentage. 

It would have appeared to their victims that the chance of rescue was slim at best. But as the song says, “When you haven’t got a prayer, but boy you’ve got a prayer in
Memphis.” Reyes-Santillan faces up to 40 years in prison while at least two others face 10-years each.

Human trafficking prosecutions are a top priority of the Department of Justice, according to their press release about the arrests. In the last six fiscal years, the Civil Rights Division, in conjunction with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, has increased by six-fold the number of human trafficking cases filed in court, quadrupled the number of defendants charged, and tripled the number of defendants convicted.

In 2006, the Department obtained a record number of convictions in human trafficking prosecutions. 

“The dark and reprehensible world of human trafficking all too often involves minor girls who are forced into prostitution,” said Wan J. Kim, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute these crimes of outrageous victimization.”


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