DEBRA W. YANG
United States Attorney
Central District of California
Thom Mrozek, Public Affairs Officer
January 24, 2005
HUMAN TRAFFICKING TASK FORCE FORMED IN LOS ANGELES
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT AWARDS $450,000 GRANT TO L.A.P.D. TO FUND TRAINING OF ENTIRE FORCE TO HELP OFFICERS RECOGNIZE AND HELP VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING
A coalition of federal, state and non-governmental agencies has joined together to form the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area Task Force on Human Trafficking, whose mission is to improve tactics for identifying and rescuing trafficking victims, provide assistance to victims and prosecute those responsible for human trafficking.
The Task Force, which had its first formal meeting in December, is comprised of the Los Angeles Police Department, the United States Attorney's Office, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General. The Task Force anticipates that other community-based organizations who provide services to trafficking victims will participate in Task Force activities.
At a press conference to announce the formation of the Task Force, it was also announced that the United States Department of Justice has awarded a grant of $450,000 to the LAPD. The grant will be used to pay for the development and implementation of a program that will provide every LAPD officer with training on how to identify trafficking victims to ensure they are quickly referred to community-based organizations that provide needed services. The LAPD grant is one of 16 grants that the Justice Department has awarded in recent months to local agencies around the nation.
"The trafficking of human beings is tantamount to slavery," said LAPD Chief William J. Bratton. "The persons who traffic in human beings are using these victims' desire to come to America as bait, and the traffickers are profiting from it. This activity must be stopped. It's a human rights issue."
The problem of human trafficking in the Los Angeles metropolitan area was highlighted nearly 10 years ago when 72 Thai nationals were freed from a garment sweatshop in El Monte where they were held as virtual slaves. Since then, other victims have escaped or been freed after being forced to work as indentured servants and prostitutes. CAST reports that it has helped 75 victims since it was formed in 1998, although the number of victims in the Los Angeles area over the past several years is believed to be much higher.
Human trafficking is a horrific crime. Some victims are forced, defrauded or coerced into prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation. Others are compelled to work in sweatshops, in agricultural fields or as domestic servants. The federal government estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked against their will across international borders. In the wake of the recent tsunami disaster, UNICEF and other organizations report that traffickers are abducting young survivors with an eye toward selling them on the black market.
"The problem of human trafficking is believed to be growing, both around the world and in the United States," said United States Attorney Debra W. Yang. "El Monte and other cases prove that it has happened and continues to happen in the Los Angeles area. This task force will give police on the streets and service providers in our diverse communities new tools that will allow them to identify and provide help to victims. And, my office will redouble efforts to aggressively prosecute those who commit the heinous crime of human trafficking."
The goal of the Task Force is to give local law enforcement and community-based organizations the support they need to combat trafficking. Local law enforcement and CBOs can best identify trafficking victims during the course of their field operations and delivery of social services. Members of the Task Force also hope to focus law enforcement efforts on "proactive" investigations of organized groups who are importing victims and forcing them to work in brothels and sweatshops.
"This task force is going to be a tremendous asset in our efforts to combat human trafficking here in this area," said Loraine Brown, Special Agent-in-Charge for ICE investigations in Los Angeles. "Beyond the intolerable human rights violations trafficking fosters, it also poses a serious security threat. We know many of the profits from this reprehensible enterprise go to finance more crime and violence."
The community-based organizations affiliated with the Task Force are charged with coordinating public outreach campaigns to educate the public about the problem of trafficking and to inform victims that help is available.
CAST, which has served more trafficking victims than any other organization in the country, will continue to provide comprehensive services to victims, including food, shelter, physical and mental health services, education, job training and referral, English as a Second Language, and legal services. Additionally, CAST will develop a public awareness campaign to shed light on the issue of trafficking and provide information in various ethnic communities about the problem of trafficking and services available to victims.
"As one of the most affected cities in the country, Los Angeles will benefit immensely from the collaborative model of the Human Trafficking Task Force," said Kay Buck, Executive Director of CAST. "These cross-sector partnerships are critical in raising awareness at all levels so that the human rights of thousands of trafficking victims are protected and promoted."
LAFLA has committed to provide legal representation to trafficking victims, who are eligible to obtain visas and permanent legal status in the United States.
LAFLA Executive Director Bruce Iwaski said: "Since the federal trafficking law passed in 2000, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles has successfully represented 53 victims of human trafficking in obtaining immigration status. We have also trained over 800 legal and social service providers across the U.S. on how to identify and assist trafficked persons. We know that there are many more victims out there who need help, so we are excited about this opportunity to work together with the LAPD and federal law enforcement officials to address this serious issue."
Richard Garcia, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI in Los Angeles, stated: "The reprehensible act of trafficking in human beings is considered synonymous with involuntary servitude and slavery. Such activity violates federal, state and local criminal laws that seek to protect persons from many forms of exploitation, even where some victims initially might have been willing participants in a scheme to enter the United States illegally."
According to Marita Janiga, the Special Agent in Charge of the United States Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General: "The Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud Investigations is committed to working closely with other members of the working group to combat human trafficking and worker exploitation. We look forward to using our experience in investigating those who circumvent the Department of Labor's work visa certification process. In addition, we will coordinate with the Department of Labor's regulatory agencies and support them in pursuing individuals or organizations that perpetrate these types of crimes."
Release No. 05-014
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