Attorney General News Conference
WORKER EXPLOITATION March 27, 2001
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Good afternoon. Thank you very much for coming. Nice to see you.
This past Friday Mr. Kil-Soo Lee was arrested in American Samoa on a two-count federal complaint charging violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of the year 2000. These charges are based on allegations that Mr. Lee held mostly female workers recruited from Vietnam in involuntary servitude in his garment factory by using or threatening force to obtainthe labor or services of his victims over a period of nearly two years. That period of time extended from February 1999 until December of the year 2000.
One of my last acts as a United States senator was to vote for a law which would curtail this kind of activity. That law was signed on October the 28th of the year 2000. This law increases the terms of incarceration for those involved in human trafficking crimes and broadens the definition of "trafficking offenses" to reach the subtle means of coercion, the techniques of holding workers in against the will. It's hard to believe that these crimes exist in the United States of America, but they do. And let me just give you some additional examples.
On March the 7th a large landlord in Berkeley, California pled guilty to trafficking women and girls into the United States to place them in sexual servitude.
On February 15th a defendant pled guilty to using cocaine, threats and beatings to force homeless African American men to work his agricultural fields in Florida. Sentencing is still pending.
On February the 2nd a defendant was incarcerated for nine years for kidnapping a young woman from her family, smuggling her to the United States of America, and holding her and causing her to engage in sex acts.
In spring of the year 2000 a defendant was incarcerated eight years for forcing several Thai women to work as domestic servants in Los Angeles.
In spring of 1999 six defendants were incarcerated for using beatings, rapes and threats to force dozens of Mexican women and girls, some as young as 14 years old, to work in brothels in Florida and in the Carolinas.
According to the congressional findings, thousands of persons, primarily women and children, are trafficked into the United States each year. Many of these women and girls are trafficked into the sex trade in this country. But these crimes are not limited to the sex industry. Victims are often forced into labor conditions in illegal sweatshops, in the agricultural industry and in domestic servitude.
Our greatest challenges in identifying victims of worker exploitation are victims of trafficking are typically held in fear. We need to somehow communicate to these individuals that they can avoid this sense of fear, and they have an opportunity for redress. They rarely know how to report their crimes. And that's why I'm making the following announcements today, andfrankly using the bully pulpit today to raise awareness and to let victims know how to report these crimes.
There are three major areas where the department will focus its efforts to implement enforcement of this law.
First, outreach. We must make the public aware of this problem and how to report it. A hotline was created last year by the National Worker Exploitation Task Force, and it was given temporary funding. I will permanently fund the hotline so that persons can report these crimes. The number of the hotline is 1-888-428-7581. The hotline will be staffed by an operator who has access to language-translation services, so individuals will be able to access the assistance of the hotline even if they are not skilled in the English language.
In 1999, there were 27 criminal matters opened. But after the hotline was started in the year 2000, there were 75 criminal investigations opened. We will advertise the hotline using public service announcements, and we will distribute information on worker exploitation to immigrant and other communities by our involvement in those communities to signal to them the availability of this redress.
I'm also initiating a community outreach program to work with local community groups; victims' rights organizations; immigrants' rights organizations; shelters and other groups. We want to inform victims of the protections and services that are available to them, and to encourage victims and others to report suspected trafficking crimes.
In addition to this outreach effort, we need to indicate that there is a reason for us to have a strong effort in prosecution. The second step, then, of our program is educating prosecutors and other law enforcement officials. Today the Civil Rights Division, along with the Criminal Division and the executive office of the United States attorneys, will issue the first guidance to all federal prosecutors on this issue. This guidance will detail the law enforcement tools available under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Today I am also announcing two new attorney positions in the Civil Rights Division, to pursue infractions of this law and these assaults upon the rights and dignity of these individuals. These attorneys will work on the outreach efforts that I have already mentioned. They will also help train local prosecutors and will act as a resource to make sure that prosecution efforts undertaken are undertaken with an awareness of all the resources available from the federal government.
Number three, the third step in our strategy is the step of cooperation. We need cooperation among law enforcement officials at every effort and every level.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation plays a critical leadership role in proactively identifying victims and investigating these crimes, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service plays a critical role on the front line. I am directing both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, INS, to work with the Civil Rights Division to explore ways to identify victims of trafficking and to refer these cases to the division for prosecution.
This is a matter of serious concern. It is a matter that has been of concern to the elected representatives of the people in the Congress. They expressed themselves in terms of the need for enforcement in this respect in the law enacted late last year, and our response to that additional capability and responsibility is to implement this program of outreach, of prosecution, and of cooperation between the agencies that are required in order for this law and its prosecution to affect materially the rights of individuals in this area.
I want to thank you for coming today. I look forward to your questions.
Q Is this a new problem, a growing problem, or is it something that we're only just now realizing the magnitude of?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: This is a substantial problem. The litany of circumstances which I read to you today reflects that it is a serious problem and it has substantial prevalence. I can't -- I don't have data to try and say whether or not this is a problem that is bigger now than it's ever been before. I just know that it's a serious problem and that there are the rights of -- important rights of individuals that are seriously affected here. And we're going to take action to move against the infringement of those rights.
Q Could you go into a little more detail about what prosecutors need to be educated on with this law?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, the law does two things, basically -- the most recent enactment of the Congress, I should say. And I try not to be too professorial here, probably because I'm not an expert here, but the law expanded the definition of force so that a person could be coerced under the definitions provided for in last year's enactment in ways that aren't merely physical. Secondly, the penalties under the law were enhanced as a result of this most recent enactment. And they provide for penalties of up to 20 years in most cases, but in case of a death of one of the individuals whose rights were infringed, that could be as long as life in prison.
In providing additional information to prosecutors -- and obviously we're at a time when there will be some changesmade in the prosecution leadership in the various U.S. Attorney's offices around the country -- we want them to be keenly aware of the fact of these expanded definitions because they will change the nature of prosecutions, and of course of the expanded penalties.
Q Can you maybe just tell about what rights people in a situation have when they have been brought here by force? Do they have the right to stay here?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: The Victims of Trafficking Act of the year 2000 provided a special standing for those who report these violations, and people who called the hotline would be eligible for this standing. And I think it's called a T visa, which is a certain kind of temporary visa that provides for their ability to remain, pending the resolution of this matter and the potential that they be placed in a stream of eligible individuals for naturalization, or for normal processing in the course of the INS's normal work.
It is thought to be very important.
One of the things that's used to intimidate individuals is the suggestion that if you report, you'll automatically be deported. Other coercive tactics taken by those who have abused others have been to threaten either their families or those remain in other countries. And we wanted, by virtue of expanding this definition of the nature of coercion, together with the options of helping individuals with the T status visas, to make it easier for these violations to be reported and to give us the opportunity then with the reporting to have the chance to curtail this kind of activity.
And this effort at enforcement picks up on what the Congress and the president did in October of last year to say that we want to move forward. We're welcoming additional information on the hotline. We're going to try and make sure people know about that with the outreach program. We've assigned additional resources for prosecution. And we'll, in addition to the additional resources for prosecution, issue the guidance protocols which make clear to individuals about this new option and opportunity. And, of course last but not least, we want to make sure that the coordination that's necessary to effective prosecution in this area between the investigative authorities, the immigration authorities and the prosecutional authorities is all there.
Q I note that on your chart there, you have a Labor Department logo. And I also noted in the legislation that the State Department seemed to be the leading agency for this. Can you talk about how the various government agencies are working together? I guess you have a national task force on this now?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, that would sure be apparent from the various -- our piece of this, and that's the only thing I'm really qualified to talk about, is that we want to send a very clear signal that this is intolerable; that involuntary servitude and slavery, the illegal sweat shop, is not a part of the United States stands for. It demeans the work of those who are involved in it and undercuts the working capacity of those who are not involved.
And it is important, obviously, to the labor community in the United Sates of America not to have substandard, illegal sweatshop conditions operated here. And the ability to hold people in those settings, not to report violations under threat or coercion, and this potential threat of exposure as illegal aliens, not having the right documentation, has been one of the means whereby there has been a restraint on the report of these abuses.
Q What about the abuses overseas that's of concern to senators, that don't involve U.S. citizens, what can you do about that?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, this is designed to focus on areas where we have jurisdiction to act. And I can't answer your question. I wish I could tell you that I had a way to make sure that there weren't any abuses. When people are solicited to come to the United States -- I think what you're making reference to is they're told that there are opportunities here. I mean, one of the cases I believe relating to Alaska was that there was a recruitment of women in Russia to be part of what they were told would be a folk dance operation. It turned out not to be a folk dancing operation at all; it was something far less acceptable. So fraud in those kind of inducement situations I think can become a part of the proof of what the situation is here. But we really are focused on criminal activity that is involved in coercion and the repression of the rights of individuals in illegal settings here.
Q How much new money is the Justice Department committing to the three steps that you mentioned?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: We won't be releasing details on our budget until April. But I've allocated the two additional attorneys. The advertising program, which has been contemplated here, is not a funded program on the part of government, it's a public service announcement program.
Q On another subject, many privacy and civil liberties groups have questioned the Justice Department's use of the e-mail surveillance system, formerly known as Carnivore, now dubbed DSS-1000. Last year the department retained the Institute of Technology at Illinois to produce a report on the technological capabilities of this system, but there still are questions about its legality.
I'm wondering what the administration's position on the use of Carnivore is, and will you continue to make use of it while this report of the Justice Department is still pending?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I have not personally -- the report, I believe, is working its way through the Justice Department at this time. I've not personally seen it. I have not altered in any way the ability of the administration to pursue its legal objectives in any kind of its surveillance activities.
Yes, Mr. Sawyer?
Q General, on affirmative action, the Supreme Court yesterday agreed to revisit the Adarand case. And today there's a District Court decision out in Michigan on the -- ruling unconstitutional the Michigan Law School affirmative action program, and there's a companion case that ruled constitutional the undergraduate case. Can you give us any insight and your thinking on that or where the department is likely to be as these cases make their way through?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, this is a matter of very serious concern. You may remember that this came up at my confirmation hearing, and as I noted then, when I was a United States senator I had a responsibility to consider legislation and to give my best judgment as to whether the legislation was constitutional and prudent.
I voted against the reauthorization of set-asides that were at issue in the Adarand case because the specific language actually came back before the Senate, and I sided with what I believe to have been the Supreme Court's judgment there.
However, I emphasized in my hearings that my responsibility as attorney general, on a routine basis, might be different than commenting on what I thought the constitutionality of the law would be. My responsibility no longer allows me tooppose laws merely because I have a personal view that they may be imprudent or even that, in my own best judgment, I think they might be unconstitutional. Rather, my routine responsibility as attorney general is to defend acts of Congress and federal regulations as long as they are in good faith and a good-faith defense is possible. That would be the routine responsibility.
Now, the Supreme Court yesterday granted cert again in the Adarand case. Briefs in that case will be due for filing on the 11th day of June from the United States government and, as we prepare our positions in that case, I will consult with the Department of Transportation and the administration prior to fulfilling our legal responsibility in this particular matter. The Department of Transportation certainly retains the authority to reconsider its regulations, and if the Department of Transportation were to reformulate its regulations, that could alter the legal landscape significantly.
Now, the Supreme Court's consideration of this case would provide important guidance to the federal government. The case provides the court with an opportunity to clarify how the strict scrutiny test applies to race-conscious federal programs. If the court strikes down the Transportation Department's regulations, it likely would require the federal government to reconsider and review or reformulate the numerous federal race-conscious programs. But prior to participating further by way of filing briefs on the 11th of June, I'll be conferring with the Transportation Department and the administration in this matter.
Q So that when you said earlier this month that you would obviously defend the Department of Transportation regulations, you didn't mean to imply that there wouldn't be this further discussion about -- (inaudible) --
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I can't say that the --
Q -- regulations?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I can't say that the department won't make a decision about its regulations in the light of this grant of cert.
Q Sir, when will the department make a decision concerning whether or not to allow closed circuit television for victims of -- families of the Oklahoma City bombing to watch the execution?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: The tragedy of Oklahoma City is one which continues, and obviously I respect the grief that the families that were the subject of that tragedy have endured. I have asked the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide me with a plan for accommodating the needs and feelings of those families that would reflect also the interests of justice in regard to this execution. Prior to making a final decision, I expect to confer with members of that family group and their representatives as well as to receive the recommendation of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and will announce our plan for accommodating and appropriately respecting the sensitivities of these families and the needs of justice.
Q Has that meeting been set up yet?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I don't believe it's scheduled.
Q Mr. Ashcroft?
STAFF: We have time for one or two more questions.
Q There was a report this week that the Justice Department wants to seek the death penalty against Robert Hanssen; also that the U.S. attorney might be opposed to that matter. Has the department made a determination about where it intends to go with this prosecution?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I really don't want to discuss specific cases. I think my predecessor was wise in telling me when she came to visit me, don't start discussing specific cases. Let me just say to you that as it relates to the death penalty, particularly in cases like national security cases that involve the compromise of either systems or information relating to the national security of the United States, that I believe we have to have an assessment of the national interest that relates to whether or not the penalty should be the ultimate penalty or not. And let me just clarify that a little bit if you will.
By the national interest, I mean that there is a national interest in making sure that we send a signal, that we take very seriously any compromises of the national interest and the national security by individuals who would inappropriately leak information or sell information. But we would also take very seriously the need or opportunity to ascertain things important for us to know about the nature of what had happened that might be available to us in the context of a plea bargain.
And ultimately, when we make a decision in matters like this, the decision will be made reflecting the national interests of the United States, both the national security interests reflected in terms of the information that's been compromised and that which hasn't been compromised, and the national interests reflected in sending a very clear signal that the United State of America does not take lightly, does not view without seriousness, compromises in our national security and the sale of national secrets.
Q Sir, in the wake of the Hanssen case, the FBI tomorrow will begin an extended polygraph program. There are -- some have mentioned or there's been a suggestion that FBI agents should also undergo psychological evaluations on a regular basis. Is that something -- is that something that the Justice Department could support?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: You know, I believe that there is going to be a lot of healthy discussion -- and I think it will come from a number of quarters -- about how we can better secure our intelligence effort. And I look forward to theinspector general's report from within this department. Inspector General Fine is an individual of great talent, and I've asked him to look carefully here. I look forward to the contribution made by Judge Webster, who has extensive security, international and national security interests experience. And I look forward to the work of the United States Congress. In particular, I've dealt with Senator -- the senators on the Intelligence Committee, and I believe that it's -- they will be a part of helping develop a strategy. I'm grateful for the first steps that are taken in the department, and particularly in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to promote security. We have on a(n) interim basis begun to implement audit standards so that we can ascertain whether individuals have access to information for which they have no real use and whether their accessing of that information is justified and appropriate. The implementation of some lie detector tests that had not previously been implemented will be a valuable tool.
In no way do I believe that these interim measures should in any way curtail the level of the inquiries that are underway in the Congress, by Judge Webster, or by the inspector general.
While we should -- if you could allow the analogy -- take whatever sort of roadside measures are necessary in triage to stop whatever problems we might think might exist, we need the full set of x-rays, we need the full diagnosis, and to have a commitment to implementing, on a continuing basis, anything that will upgrade our capacity. So, we look forward to the work of these three agencies: the Congress, the inspector general, and Judge Webster.
And the last thing I would do would maybe quote -- oh shoot, I can't remember who the philosopher was, but someone said that, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." I don't think we should ever conclude our evaluation of whether or not there are ways for us to secure better what we do. This should be a constant review, especially in the area of national security. And so I hope we will always remain open to increasing our capacity to reduce and minimize the risk of breaches that would threaten the security of this nation.
I thank you very much. Nice to be with you.