REMARKS OF ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN ASHCROFT
"Path-breaking Strategies in the Global Fight Against Sex Trafficking" February 25, 2003
Good morning. Thank you, Congressman Wolf, for that kind introduction, and for your tireless work in defense of human rights and human dignity around the world. It is a privilege to join you today. I thank Secretary Powell for hosting this conference and for his commitment to eradicating one of the most heinous crimes plaguing our society - human trafficking. I thank also the War Against Trafficking Alliance for co-sponsoring the conference and for leading the effort to combat trafficking.
The Department of Justice's charge is to safeguard, nourish, and protect the conditions of freedom that make America unique. One of those conditions is the respect and value that American culture places on the dignity of each and every individual. The Justice Department is committed to defending freedom and human dignity. One of the greatest threats to human dignity is human trafficking: the commodification of human beings.
Let me tell you a story. Last February, the Plainfield, New Jersey, Police Department raided a house of prostitution. Tragically, the police discovered not only adult prostitutes, but also four young Mexican girls - ages fourteen to seventeen. Upon investigation, authorities learned all of the girls had been working at menial jobs in Mexico when they were approached by young men offering them promises of love, marriage, and a better life. The men invited the girls on dates, then smuggled them into the United States. These men trafficked the girls out of one desperate situation and into another.
The men, later identified as brothers Delfino and Luis Jimenez-Calderon, [Yi-MEN-ez Kal-der-OWN], worked with their sisters, Miriam and Laura Jimenez-Calderon. Delfino and Luis turned the young girls over to Miriam and Laura, who confined the young girls to the brothel in Plainfield, New Jersey. Miriam and Laura forced these young girls into prostitution using isolation, physical violence, threats, and psychological coercion to maintain control over them.
The Jimenez-Calderon sisters prohibited the girls from talking to one another or to anyone else in the house, and forbade them to contact anyone in the outside world. The sisters ordered the frightened girls to lie about their ages and took all the money the girls earned. Any infraction of these stringent, cruel rules resulted in physical abuse. Desperate, the girls remained trapped in this living nightmare until the police raid the following February.
Thanks to a joint effort of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey, six of the eight defendants pled guilty. Two remain at large. Sentencing for the other six is pending. But no penalty can erase the scars of those young girls.
This story is heart-rending but, tragically, it is not unique. Each year, tens of thousands of people -- predominantly women and children -- are trafficked into the United States. Even one is one too many. These innocent victims are kidnaped or lured with false promises of good jobs and better lives. They are then abused and cruelly exploited. They are forced into servitude and prostitution. All too often, the victims of this slavery are too young, too afraid, or simply unable to seek help. Those who traffic in human lives treat people as easily expendable and highly profitable. But behind each dollar sign is a human tragedy.
- In Maryland, a couple was convicted for luring a fourteen-year-old girl from Cameroon with promises of a splendid American education, only to enslave her as a domestic servant in their home. They kept her under their power for three years through physical violence and threats of deportation, AND she was sexually assaulted. The couple was convicted and sentenced to 9 years in prison.
- In California, a prominent landlord pled guilty to trafficking women and young girls into the United States from India and placing them in sexual servitude.
- In Florida, a 19-year-old girl was kidnaped from her home in Guatemala, smuggled into the United States and imprisoned. By day, she was forced into agricultural labor and by night she was forced into sexual servitude. The kidnapper was convicted in federal court and sentenced to 9 years in prison.
These are not struggles in faraway lands, but right here at home. Their stories shock our consciences, offend our values, and demand our compassionate, effective response.
As the world has gotten smaller and technology has improved, it has become much easier for traffickers - and their victims - to move freely across borders. Trafficking is a transnational criminal enterprise. It recognizes neither boundaries nor borders. Profits from trafficking feed into the coffers of organized crime. Trafficking is fueled by other criminal activities such as document fraud, money laundering and migrant smuggling. Because trafficking cases are expansive in reach, they are among the most important matters - as well as the most labor and time-intensive matters - undertaken by the Department of Justice. They often involve:
- large numbers of victims;
- language barriers;
- multiple investigating agencies;
- overseas investigations; and
- severe sexual and/or physical trauma of victims and witnesses, requiring the expertise of various professionals, including rape counselors, psychiatrists, physicians, and child interview specialists.
The Department of Justice remains firmly committed to ensuring criminals who engage in human trafficking are aggressively investigated, swiftly prosecuted, and severely punished. I thank the United States Congress for enacting the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which I had the privilege to support as a United States Senator. The United States has led the world in combating trafficking over the past several years, due in no small part to this legislation.
- The Justice Department has opened a record number of trafficking investigations and prosecuted a record number of traffickers. In fiscal years 2001 through 2002, the Justice Department more than doubled the number of trafficking prosecutions . and doubled the number of convictions . over the previous two fiscal years.
- Just this past Friday - in the largest human trafficking case ever prosecuted . Justice Department prosecutors secured the conviction of Kil Soo Lee, the owner of an American Samoa garment factory, for the exploitation and forced labor of more than 200 Chinese and Vietnamese workers. Kil Soo Lee and his co-conspirators recruited the workers and then illegally confined them, forcing them to operate the garment factory. The victims in this case were deprived of food, physically abused, and threatened with deportation if they attempted to resist.
- In fiscal years 2001 and 2002, the Department successfully convicted 36 defendants in sex trafficking prosecutions. That is three times the number of sex traffickers prosecuted in the previous two fiscal years.
- Trafficking investigations have been initiated in 46 states and in all United States territories. In the past two years alone, the Department's trafficking indictments have originated from countries around the world, including Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Ghana, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.
- By definition, trafficking is an international problem that requires an international solution. The Justice Department's Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training team, or OPDAT, has worked closely with the State Department and prosecutors abroad to enhance anti-trafficking efforts. In Bulgaria and Romania, OPDAT's assisted in drafting of a law prohibiting human trafficking that closely reflects the UN Protocol on Trafficking. Their efforts led to the establishment of human trafficking law enforcement task forces in those countries.
We have made great progress. But each heartbreaking tale of injustice compels us to do even more. At the Justice Department, we have focused our efforts to combat trafficking on four key areas:
- continued outreach services to the women and young girls who are the victims of sex trafficking;
- immigration assistance to victims;
- law enforcement training and outreach; and
- increased internal and interagency coordination.
First, the Justice Department works to ensure that victims of trafficking have the services they need from the moment we encounter them. Victims of trafficking who have suffered unspeakably are often not surprisingly unwilling to place their trust in the federal government. We must continue to reach out to them, and send the message that human freedom and human dignity will be protected in the United States of America. It is the criminals who enslaved them who must pay a terrible price . not the victims.
Earlier this month, the Department's Office for Victims of Crime awarded twelve grants totaling more than $9.5 million for trafficking-related services. Three grants will support specialized services to trafficking victims in larger multi-state areas. Eight grants will support comprehensive services to trafficking victims in a specific state or region. These services will include:
- emergency medical attention;
- food and shelter;
- vocational and English language training;
- mental health counseling; and
- legal support.
The second area of our efforts involves assisting victims of trafficking with immigration issues. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has assisted approximately 300 victims in getting access to immigration benefits. The INS has granted 300 "continued presence" requests and is currently processing 150 T-visa applications. In the past, traffickers have exploited their victims' fear of being discovered as illegal aliens. The T-visa was designed to help trafficking victims who cooperate with law enforcement to punish those responsible for their enslavement. It allows victims to remain in the United States and allows us to turn the exploitive tactics of traffickers against them.
These T-visas are making an important difference one life at a time. Since I announced the implementation of the T-visas, the INS has been able to grant 23 T-visas to victims in need. The courageous women and children who help U.S. prosecutors convict traffickers of these egregious crimes deserve and need the best help we can give them.
Although the INS will soon be housed in the newly-created Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice will continue to work hand in hand with other federal agencies to continue the fight against trafficking.
The third area of our victims' assistance efforts involves the training of both federal and local law enforcement to ensure trafficking victims are swiftly identified and soundly protected. Last fall, the Criminal Section of the Department's Civil Rights Division organized comprehensive anti-trafficking training for federal prosecutors and agents.
- We train investigators to determine whether human trafficking activity is masquerading as other crime, such as alien smuggling.
- We provide law enforcement officials with federal, state and local contacts to assist them in moving quickly to triage a trafficking case.
- We develop regional anti-trafficking task forces across the country.
- We forge new ties of cooperation with non-governmental organizations throughout the nation, and train their service providers on the victim services and criminal provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Fourth and finally, we have increased coordination among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The Plainfield, New Jersey, sex trafficking case is a prime example: federal and local police collaborated to investigate the crime, safeguard the victims, and prosecute the traffickers. The victims were given safe haven by a non-governmental organization.
To better integrate our interagency coordination, in the next month the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services will execute a Memorandum of Understanding that will formalize our extensive coordination in helping trafficking victims. Specifically, we will coordinate our efforts so victims may receive "continued presence," a designation that they have submitted a "bona fide" T visa application, and a certification that they are eligible to receive HHS benefits and services as if they were refugees. It will then be easier to provide assistance to victims in the crucial period between the time they are discovered by law enforcement and the time they are eligible for refugee benefits.
As the reports of human trafficking continue to increase, we are reminded sharply that no state, no territory, no nation is immune from these crimes. Victims of trafficking come from many places, but share a common plight. They are too young, too frightened, and too trapped in their circumstances to speak for themselves. It falls to us - all of us gathered here today - to be the voices of these victims. We cannot - we will not - stand by as women and children are sold into slavery, and as the toll in human suffering mounts.
Sex trafficking is more than just a serious violation of the law. It is an affront to human dignity; it is an assault on human values. We must and we will continue to work together to protect the victims of trafficking and to bring to justice all those who violate their human dignity.