Department of Justice Seal
Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
National Conference on Human Trafficking
Tampa, Florida

(Note: The Attorney General often deviates from prepared remarks.)

I am honored to be here, and even more honored to have been preceded by the President of the United States. President Bush's presence today reminds us of the great gravity of the issues at stake in the struggle against human trafficking.

President Lincoln held firm in turbulent times to a vision of freedom for all, because he understood that the freedom that is endowed by our Creator, and which no man has a right to hinder or abuse, is the most transformative force in human history.

Like Lincoln, President Bush understands that among the foundations of our liberty are the dignity and worth of each and every individual. Like Lincoln, George W. Bush has confronted those who violate the dignity of individual human beings, even when such confrontation carries risks … especially when it carries risks … because to look the other way is to jeopardize the freedom of us all.

In the 19th Century, the threat to this vision of liberty was slavery. Today, we use a more lawyerly term, the euphemism, "human trafficking." But the term "human trafficking" does not capture the unique evil that is the making of our fellow man into a commodity. It does not describe adequately the experience of being treated like cattle to be bartered and bonded.

Modern day slavery is a better term for the girls as young as 7 years of age who are forced to perform repeated sex acts in brothels in Cambodia. Or for the women who, desiring a better life, leave their homelands only to be trapped in lives of misery and sexual abuse here in the United States.

As the President has made clear, two centuries after the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, the trade in human beings is a thriving industry worldwide.

And, sadly, it is happening here. The thousands of people trafficked here each year are forced to work in the sex trade, as agricultural laborers or in sweatshops. They are desperate for the necessities of life. Instead, they are scarred by exploitation rooted in greed.

This grotesque trade in human life is a global industry that provides hardened criminals an estimated $8 billion to $10 billion a year in profit.

These statistics are daunting. But our lives are not measured in statistics. Our national greatness is defined by the ideals that inspire us to endure and sacrifice. And behind each and every one of these statistics is a human face … a woman being denied her humanity, and denied the opportunity to fulfill her potential, because she is denied her freedom. The President mentioned the Lee case, and there are others.

From August 2002 to March 2003, three brothers … Juan Carlos Soto, Armando Soto, and Hector Soto … and their henchmen smuggled groups of young women from Mexico into the United States. In the Edinburg, Texas area, they would house the women in mobile homes, then sell them into servitude. Sometimes, they kept the women for themselves.

For three months in 2003, Juan Carlos Soto held four women as his sex slaves. He raped the women repeatedly and forced them to work during the day, cooking and cleaning.

One day, February 7, 2003, Soto become enraged when two of the women tried to contact a neighbor for help. He ordered his men to transport the women to an irrigation ditch. There, he and his men raped and beat the two women to punish them. Soto then ordered his men to kill the women, but instead, his men let the women go.

Last January, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division prosecuted and convicted six defendants for their brutal treatment of these women. They received sentences of up to 23 years in prison.

Cases such as this one shock our consciences, offend our values, and demand our compassionate, effective response. That is why from the very beginning of his Administration, President Bush has spoken forcefully and eloquently about the brutal crime of human trafficking. It is why one of my first acts as Attorney General was to make this assault on human dignity a top priority of the Justice Department.

On March 27, 2001, I announced a comprehensive anti-trafficking initiative focused on three key areas:

- Protecting the victims;
- Prosecuting the perpetrators;
- Partnership-building that addresses, attacks and prevents human trafficking.

First, protecting victims. In enacting the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, Congress noted that its primary purposes included not only combating traffickers, but also protecting the victims.

One critical tool in reaching out to traumatized victims has been the use of T-visas. The T-visa helps trafficking victims who cooperate with law enforcement to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for their enslavement. It allows victims to remain in America for up to three years, after which they may seek permanent residency if they choose to do so. These visas also allow us to turn the exploitive tactics of traffickers against them.

T-visas are making an important difference one life at a time. Since I announced the implementation of T-visas, Department of Justice Civil Rights prosecutors have helped scores of victims remain in America.

These men, women and children have bravely stood and helped to achieve our second goal: bringing the perpetrators of human trafficking to justice. In the past three fiscal years, the Department of Justice has:

- Charged 110 traffickers. That is nearly a three-fold increase over the previous three fiscal years. Of these, 78 included sex-trafficking charges.
- In this fiscal year alone, we have charged an additional 43 traffickers.
- And as of July 2004, the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division had 168 open trafficking investigations, 98 of which were opened since the start of the fiscal year.
- Thus far, of the trafficking cases that have gone to trial, the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division has gained convictions or obtained guilty pleas from 107 defendants.
- This number is significant. It represents a 100 percent conviction rate in our human trafficking prosecutions. 100 percent.

These prosecutions and convictions represent more than just the punishment of wrongdoers; they send a clear message that America will repel aggressively assaults on our core values of freedom and respect for human dignity.

We have had success in the past three years. But each of us understands that these efforts are only the beginning. That is why this conference is critical to forming the partnerships between local, state and federal law enforcement, prosecutors and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

This conference would not have been possible without the contributions of two men, Representatives Frank Wolf of Virginia and Chris Smith of New Jersey. Congressman Smith has been a forceful advocate for the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, and its reauthorization in 2003. And Congressman Wolf, through his steadfast support in the fight against human trafficking, was critical to designating Congressional funding specifically for this conference. I thank them for their efforts in the cause of justice.

The third and final focus to combat the evil of human trafficking is coordination and cooperation.

Our ability to investigate these heinous crimes, safeguard the victims, and prosecute the traffickers would not be possible were it not for the federal, state and local partnerships forged between law enforcement, prosecutors, and NGOs.

It is critical that we be able to work together to track down those who hide their barbaric businesses in the shadows, and to help their victims. No one knows a community better than the law enforcement and outreach organizations that are based there. Your efforts are critical to combating human trafficking. And I thank you for your efforts.

To enhance the cooperation on every law enforcement level, it is important that across the nation human trafficking laws be comprehensive. During this conference, you will hear about a new, model state anti-trafficking law drafted by the Justice Department. Many states have laws that address various aspects of the crime of human trafficking. But comprehensive statutes are needed to deter and punish the wide range of tactics that traffickers use against their victims. This model legislation will achieve that goal.

Beyond bringing these criminals to justice, we must also address the needs of the victims through a coalition of conscience. The Bush Administration has provided more than $35 million in funding to community-based service providers that aid trafficking victims. These groups are providing their clients with everything from the most basic necessities … food, clothing and housing … to education, job training and legal and immigration assistance.

These funds have helped us achieve much. But we will do more. I am pleased today to announce that the Department of Justice will make $14 million available over three years for grants to law enforcement agencies and service providers. These grants will help to implement and to support task forces to identify, rescue and restore the victims of trafficking.

Let me tell you what can be achieved when we work together. In February 2002, Plainfield, New Jersey police raided a home where it was believed illegal aliens were engaged in prostitution. In that home, police discovered four terrified young girls from Mexico.

The girls, from extremely remote parts of Mexico, were between the ages of 14 to 16. They were lured to the United States by the promise of a better life. Instead, they were imprisoned by two women who guarded them constantly, abused them physically, and denied them the most basic necessities of daily life. In the two years of their captivity, the girls were never allowed to leave the house or to even speak. They suffered in silence as they were forced to have sex with 12 to 14 men a day.

Authorities in New Jersey sent the girls to one of the many organizations that provide services to victims of human trafficking. There, the girls received medical care, therapy, tutoring, and legal assistance.

All four girls were provided with T-visas and were involved actively in the Justice Department prosecution of their traffickers. Three of the girls even provided victim impact statements in the sentencing phase of the trial. With their help, the girls' two captors were each sentenced to more than 17 years in prison.

Today, two years later, so much has changed for these young women. One of the younger girls now resides happily in a foster home, another in a group home for independent living. They are doing well. Meanwhile, the two older girls were emancipated when they recently turned 18. They remain in America, working at full-time jobs and supporting themselves.

Two years ago, these girls were the faces of intolerable human suffering. Today, through the coordinated outreach of the justice community, and their personal courage, they are the faces of freedom.

We will … we must … continue to work together to protect the victims of trafficking and to bring to justice those who violate their human dignity. 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 enslaved, and as the toll in suffering mounts.

In the 19th Century, our nation was torn apart by the issue of slavery, but President Lincoln saw the issue clearly: freedom was in the balance, not just for the slaves, but for all Americans.

"Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history," Lincoln wrote. "We … will be remembered in spite of ourselves … In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free … honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve."

We, too, cannot escape history. At a time when our nation has once again been called to freedom's defense half way across the world, we cannot look past the threats to human dignity here at home. Two centuries after the end of the transatlantic slave trade, and more than a century after Lincoln's triumph, we are faced with a slave trade of the 21st Century.

Our duty is clear. The trade of human beings must not be allowed to thrive in our time. We must give freedom to the enslaved; assure freedom to the free; and know that our efforts are honorable in what they give, and what they preserve.

Thank you.

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