Proposed legislation in the state of Maine would make it easier to police cases of human trafficking throughthe New Brunswick border, its backers say.

State Representative Michael Dunn says since Maine sits on an international border, lawmakers will have to take human trafficking issues more seriously.

"These things are starting to happen," Dunn said Thursday.

He said it'sa problem a lot of people in Maine or in New Brunswick shrug off, "but … there's a market for it, people are trying to exploit it, and it's something we need to be looking ahead for."

This week, a taskforce on human trafficking appeared before the Maine legislature's Judiciary Committee, bringingforward a bill proponents say would improve the investigation and prosecution of crimes.

Cases often involve people being taken across borders to work against their will.

Human trafficking is a federal crime, but the new bill would make it a state crime in Maine, allowing law enforcement agencies in the state to pursue the cases. lt would also make it easier for victims to gain legal immigration status through a temporary visa, so they could help with the investigation and prosecution of crimes.

Last month, two New Brunswick men were before the courts on human smuggling charges, accused of attempting to bring two people from Guyana into the United States illegally.

Beth Stickey, whois a non-profit legal aid provider in Portland, Maine,and specializes in immigration issues, said this legislation would give victims some much-needed empowerment.

"There's a tendency for them to stay put and stay quiet, even if they're in abusive working situations that wouldn't be tolerated by people born here who have full legal status."

The new legislation, if approved, would take effect Jan. 1, 2008.