By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK, July 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Reports of human trafficking in the United States hit a record high last year but calls about labor trafficking dropped, according to research on Tuesday that also said immigrants and minorities are likely to be afraid to speak up.
Calls to a national hotline totaled nearly 11,000 in 2018, the highest number since the anti-trafficking group Polaris launched the reporting system in 2007, it said.
The 25 percent spike was linked to round-the-clock chat capability and texting in English and Spanish, all added to the hotline last year to make reporting easier, according to the service's head.
But reports of labor trafficking dropped by 2%, to 1,249, Polaris said. Such forced labor is often found in domestic and agricultural work.
Foreigners, immigrants and minorities, fearing law enforcement and deportation, are likely not reporting abuse and exploitation, Polaris said.
President Donald Trump's administration has proposed and instituted an array of restrictive immigration policies, including crack-downs on illegal immigrants, limits on asylum and expedited deportations.
"The current climate definitely does create an environment where people are fearful," hotline director Caroline Diemar said.
"I think there is a lot of fear within those communities of law enforcement interdiction or fear of deportation," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "People in those communities aren't necessarily going to reach out."
The hotline has handled almost 52,000 cases of human trafficking since it began, but Diemar said that represented but a fraction of the crime's prevalence.
"It's only a sliver. Not every single survivor is reaching out for help," she said.
An estimated 400,000 people are believed to be trapped in modern slavery in the United States, according to the Global Slavery Index, published by the human rights group Walk Free Foundation.
They include people doing forced labor, being sex trafficked or in forced marriages.
Globally, the International Labour Organization estimates more than 40 million people are enslaved.
A third more survivors, or just over 3,200, contacted the U.S. hotline directly last year seeking help. The total includes all trafficking reports such as from witnesses or neighbors, not just victims.
The calls pertained to nearly 6,000 potential traffickers and nearly 2,000 suspect businesses.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Chris Michaud
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