Attorney General Prepared Remarks
Human Trafficking New Conference Los Angeles, California [NOTE: THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OFTEN DEVIATES FROM PREPARED REMARKS] July 23, 2001
Good morning. Thank you for being here.
On April 11, 2000, two-year-old Phanupong Khaisri, known as Got, arrived at Los Angeles International Airport as a prop in an international human trafficking scheme. Immigration and Naturalization Service inspectors discovered that the man and woman traveling with Got were not his parents but smugglers. Got was not their child but a helpless victim, "rented" by his birth mother for use in a human trafficking operation. Using the boy as a decoy, the couple posed as a vacationing family in an effort to traffic the woman into the United States, reportedly to work as a prostitute.
When he entered the United States, Got was desperately ill, suffering from a severe ear infection and chicken pox. He was hospitalized, and medical tests revealed that he is HIV-positive.
Stories like Got's can't help but move us. They appeal not just to our principles as a nation but to our compassion as a people. Like so many victims of human trafficking, Got is a confused and isolated figure adrift in a complex legal system. His father committed suicide shortly after Got was born. His mother, a convicted prostitute who "rented" him to traffickers, has relinquished her parental rights. His paternal grandmother, a convicted heroin trafficker, now seeks his return.
I met this morning with Got, his court-appointed guardians, and leaders of the Thai community here in Los Angeles. I also met some of the dedicated men and women who have committed themselves to assisting the victims of human trafficking. All Americans should be aware of the work they do and the sacrifices they make to ease the suffering of people who are strangers to them, but who are fellow human beings deserving of compassion and assistance. Many of these groups have been key players in caring for and advocating for Got since he arrived in the United States. On behalf of the Department of Justice I want to thank them for their service.
In immigration matters, the Attorney General has the sole authority to determine who speaks for and acts on behalf of a child. Absent unusual circumstances, a parent should be recognized as the appropriate person to represent the child. This is consistent with the position previously adopted by the Department of Justice in this case. In my view, however, this case presents an extremely unusual and tragic circumstance that does not lend itself to the ordinary application of this important principle.
After careful consideration, I have decided to exercise the discretion accorded to me under the immigration laws and grant Got humanitarian parole. This discretionary authority allows me to parole individuals into this country for urgent humanitarian reasons. I am exercising this authority in this case so that he can remain in this country.
And I am instructing the Immigration and Naturalization Service to accept immediately and to adjudicate, once the necessary regulations become effective, the "T" category visa application that his guardians have submitted on his behalf and to take no action to remove this child from the United States. The T visa was authorized by the Human Trafficking Victims Protection Act for victims of severe forms of human trafficking.
In March, I announced that combating the scourge of human trafficking would be a priority of this Justice Department. We issued guidance to federal prosecutors describing the new crimes under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and urging coordination among U.S. Attorneys Offices and the Civil Rights and Criminal Division here of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.
And just last week I announced the next step toward fulfilling our responsibility under the law. Together, the Department of Justice and the Department of State issued a regulation that instructs federal law enforcement personnel, immigration officials, and Department of State officials to provide victims of human trafficking with legal protections and other assistance as their cases are investigated and prosecuted.
Since the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, it has become apparent how urgently these measures are needed. The Department of Justice has encountered a large number of individuals who need protection from retaliation and continued victimization by predators who traffic them into the United States. Other victims need assistance in recovering from the trauma of having been brought here as prostitutes or forced laborers.
Human trafficking is a serious violation of the law. It is an affront to human dignity. The Department of Justice is determined not to stand idly by while the toll in human suffering mounts. Human trafficking victims are too often people like Got - too young, too frightened and too trapped in their circumstances to speak for themselves. By setting high standards of conduct for federal officials in meeting the needs of these victims, we hope to be the victims' voice, to lessen the suffering, to prosecute those who commit these crimes to the fullest extent of the law.