Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Federal agencies team up to fight human trafficking (Tuscon Citizen)

Federal agencies team up to fight human trafficking

Published: 09.09.2008

Tucson Citizen

Human trafficking has become more common nationwide, and federal agencies have joined to raise awareness of this problem, officials said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement launched a campaign Tuesday to encourage the public to report possible human trafficking and for victims to come forward and report abuse.

"We want people to know there are special programs, and special visas for victims of human trafficking in Arizona," ICE spokesman Vincent Picard said.

Arizona is the capitol for human smuggling, Picard said, but human smuggling is not the same as human trafficking.

Human smuggling is the violation of a nation's border, and human trafficking is a violation of a person, he said.

"Although human trafficking cases are not nearly as common as human smuggling here, one case is just too many," Picard said.

Traffickers force people to work without any pay. Victims often are assaulted, intimidated and kept in stash houses.

Earlier this year, agents from the Tucson Sector for Border Patrol found 48 people in a two-bedroom apartment in Rio Rico, who were being kept against their will without any food or water, "plus it was so hot inside that agents could see moisture on the windows," said Michael Scioli, Border Patrol spokesman.

Traffickers often lure victims with false promises of good jobs and better lives, then force them to work under brutal and inhumane conditions, CPB and ICE officials said.

"It's also sexual slavery. Women are being taken against their will for prostitution," Picard said. "In many instances these women think they are signing up for one thing, like crossing the border into the United States, but they're put to work against their will."

"Many times the abuse begins in the crossing process," Scioli said.

Scattered through the Sonoran Desert are "Rape Trees," vegetation with women's undergarments hung on them.

"The rape trees are like trophies to the men who take people across the desert," he said. "Human traffickers do not care about the people, they only care about the money they are worth."

Maryada Vallet works for No More Deaths, a humanitarian group that works closely with border crossers in Tucson and Nogales.

In the past year, she said there has been an increase in violence and organized crime against people who are crossing the border, and an increase in trafficking rings.

"What used to be a just a drop house has become a place where people are held naked and handcuffed against their will and put to work without pay," she said.

Every year, more than 700,000 people are trafficked internationally, and about 15,000 of them are trafficked into the United States, according to the Department of State.

CBP and ICE will distribute posters, and air public service announcements with information on how to report possible victims of human trafficking and train agents on how to help them.

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