Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales
at the Freedom Network USA Conference

Chicago, Illinois
March 15, 2006

Good afternoon.

Thank you for having me here today. I appreciate this chance to discuss our work to help victims of human trafficking.

If you took the time to wander around Chicago, just a short distance from here you would find the family home of John and Mary Jones.

The Joneses were free African-Americans who settled in Chicago to escape the poor treatment of blacks in the South and to pursue the opportunities of the American dream. But they never forgot or ignored the haunting stories of servitude and suffering they left behind. As one of only two Chicago terminals on the Underground Railroad, John and Mary Jones used their home to harbor and feed fugitive slaves fleeing to Canada.

In the late-19th Century, against the backdrop of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Chicago was a station on a metaphorical train destined for freedom…and the journey here represented the hopes and dreams of slaves who had known only hard labor, bondage, and abuse.

The brave efforts of the Joneses and other abolitionists make Chicago an appropriate place for us to discuss today’s ongoing struggle against human trafficking and servitude.

Though we have left behind the ugly period in our history when slavery was legal – and helping fugitive slaves was against the law – involuntary servitude has not been eradicated. By gathering here for this important conference, we’re honoring our obligation to be faithful stewards of the legacy of John and Mary Jones. We’re renewing our collective commitment to abolish illegal human trafficking and empower enslaved persons.

The work of victim-services organizations is, in many ways, like the modern day Underground Railroad. From New York to Los Angeles, and from Houston to Chicago, you reach out to victims in their moment of greatest need. I appreciate the partnership of everyone on the front lines of the fight against human trafficking.

All of us in this room are committed to the same thing – the eradication of this vile practice that harms desperate and innocent people on a daily basis. Although a few may disagree with some aspects of the Administration’s approach to this issue, there are also many important areas of agreement. That is what I am here today to talk about.

Few people disagree that human trafficking is one of the world’s most depraved criminal practices. What they might not know is how frequently it happens – including right here in America.

It is hard to estimate accurately the number of trafficking victims worldwide, or even the number that cross our borders here in the United States. But one thing is clear – even one victim is too many. As President Bush has said, “Human life is the gift of our Creator – and it should never be for sale.”

President Bush has pledged his support for this effort, and I’ve made protecting civil rights one of my highest priorities at the Justice Department.

I know what it means to harness your future to the opportunities of the American dream. Because of the struggles of my ancestors, some of whom came to this country from Mexico, I am particularly appalled by traffickers who lure their victims with the hope of a better life. There is no place in our compassionate society for these peddlers of broken promises.

As you know, the Civil Rights Division and the Criminal Division – along with many partners throughout the Justice Department, and the law enforcement and NGO communities – are cracking down on slave traders who treat people not with the dignity they deserve, but as commodities to be recruited, sold, and exploited. And I am proud to say that our work together has led to real progress.

Today, I am pleased to announce that the Justice Department has published a report that details our successes in the fight against human trafficking. The report will be available to everyone here following my remarks. I encourage you to read it both as a way of patting yourselves on the back, and also recognizing that we still have work left to do.

This report tells a compelling story about our joint efforts over the past five years to combat trafficking and comfort victims.

It tells the story of an aggressive, proactive, and victim-centered approach to prevention, investigations and prosecutions. We’ve deployed a comprehensive strategy that includes federal and State lawmakers, dedicated investigators, tough prosecutors, the international community, and the partnership of federally-supported victim services and outreach programs.

This report also tells a quantitative story about our successes in the field. We’ve helped nearly 1,000 human trafficking victims and directed more than 30 million dollars in grants to task forces and victims groups across the Nation.

As you know, we’ve also developed a model state law that has been endorsed by the U.S. Senate and sent to state governors and legislative leaders. In 2004, only four states had laws against trafficking. Today, more than a dozen have enacted tough anti-trafficking laws that reflect the principles of the Department’s model criminal statute…and I encourage every state to follow suit.

But more than strategies, statistics, and statutes, this report tells the human story of this terrible crime.

I was disturbed to hear of one story from my home state of Texas. A group of Mexican women were brought across the border into Texas by alien smugglers and stashed in “safehouses.” While the smugglers attempted to extort more money from the victims’ families, the young women were forced to cook and clean during the day…and were brutally raped and beaten at night.

When two of the women tried to escape, the ringleader ordered them killed. They were stripped, gang-raped, and left for dead in a canal ditch on the side of a Texas roadway. Miraculously, a nearby family found them, got them help, and the women were able to assist law enforcement and prosecutors in rescuing other victims and putting the perpetrators behind bars.

During the sentencing hearing of the lead defendant – the man who had ordered the gang-rapes and death sentences – the judge put his crimes into perspective. Shaking his head, he told a rapt courtroom: “He’s the worst that I’ve ever seen in this court. It was worse than bad.”

One of the victims told the sentencing judge: “Before I used to trust people, there is no trust anymore.” Another said that “there is not a day in the world in which I don’t remember what happened to me…I feel tormented.”

These trafficking victims are alive today because of a helpful family and the work of law enforcement. And they are on the road to recovery thanks to the care of victims-services organizations who, with federal grant funds, helped these women obtain T-visas to remain in the United States and safely rebuild their lives.

Thanks to the Justice Department’s strong working relationship with many victim-services groups, there are a number of success stories that span the universe of human trafficking victims – migrant field workers, indentured servants, sweatshop workers, and child and adult sex slaves. As explained in the report we are releasing today, sex slavery is intrinsically linked to prostitution, which is inherently harmful and dehumanizing. These victims – and the victims of other forms of modern day slavery – turn to you because your number one priority is their safety and well-being.

Victims of human trafficking often are without a voice or advocate. They too often are uneducated, unsophisticated, and unable to speak English. But they are not undeserving of our help.

You rescue victims and help restore their human dignity. You take care of them with the comfort of a counselor, the knowledge of an educator, the spirit of an advisor, the strength of an attorney, and the sympathy of someone who understands – sometimes all at once. You help them re-enter a world that seems newly welcoming and dangerous at the same time.

But your support to victims does not end once they’ve been rescued. You help cultivate the extraordinary courage these victims need to confront their traffickers face-to-face and re-open emotional memories during trials and sentencing hearings. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this element of your work.

Our accomplishments in working to abolish trafficking are the result of your collaboration with our Nation’s law enforcement agencies – as evidenced by this conference. We thank you for this cooperation.

Without the help of victims’ testimony – and therefore without your help as counselors – we would not be able to prosecute and lock up human traffickers. And though we rely on the testimony of their suffering, we hold the victims’ safety and rehabilitation as paramount.

The unfortunate truth is that there will always be more women, men, girls and boys to take the place of the victims we rescue from brothels, sweatshops, and farm fields. There will always be more vulnerable people who hope for a better job or a better education or a better life – only to fall prey to someone’s evil plans of servitude and slavery.

We can’t solve the problem only by helping victims…we have to take down the traffickers who trade in exploitation.

The Justice Department is working hard to achieve that goal. The report we released today also describes some of our successes against human traffickers in the courtroom, including huge increases in the number of cases filed, defendants charged, and convictions over the past five years.

But, again, statistics don’t tell the whole story. There is an equally human side to the prosecution of these cases.

In the report you can read about Julia Gabriel. Julia was a victim of human trafficking. After testifying against her captors, she continues to work with the Coalition of Immokolee Workers to help prosecute other cases in South Florida. And she regularly teaches at the Justice Department’s National Advocacy Center and FBI Academy to give agents and prosecutors the important perspective of a survivor who has been through the system.

And you’ll also find a photograph of Lou de Baca. As most of you know, Lou is a prosecutor in the Civil Rights Division. The photograph in our report shows survivors of the “El Monte” sweatshop presenting Lou with the Freedom Network’s Wellstone Award. His work, like that of many other federal prosecutors on behalf of victims such as these, is commendable and deserving of this award and our deep appreciation.

This Administration’s victim-centered approach to human trafficking prosecutions – employed by each and every prosecutor – is indicative of the Department’s commitment to partnering with all of you on this important issue.

I appreciate your ongoing collaboration with the Anti-Trafficking Task Forces across the Nation, and I am proud to say that we’ve funded 10 new locations stretching from Florida to Alaska. We now have 32 Anti-Trafficking Task Forces operating throughout the Nation. These Task Forces help us better coordinate our comprehensive approach to combating human trafficking.

I encourage you to take this opportunity with your colleagues – as you have in the past – to share experiences and stories, evaluate lessons learned, and develop best practices that can help us fight this pernicious evil. Then, I hope you will bring back the lessons of this conference to your local Anti-Trafficking Task Forces to even better coordinate our comprehensive assault on human traffickers and our compassionate response to human trafficking victims.

The report we’ve released today is a good benchmark. We can be proud of the state of our efforts…of the real numbers and human reality that define this struggle. But we cannot rest long on our past accomplishments.

As we speak, a married couple could be bringing an unsuspecting young Filipino girl to America with the promise of schooling and safety – only to keep her locked away as a domestic servant. As we speak, an American girl could be falling for the wiles of a pimp – only to be forced into inherently dehumanizing prostitution. As we speak, 20, or 50, or 100 victims could be locked behind the walls of an otherwise non-descript building working for pennies and hoping for some relief from their hard labor.

These stories are a mandate for action. They are a mandate for the dedicated investigators and prosecutors at the Justice Department and throughout the law enforcement community. They are a mandate for the social workers, health professionals, legal experts, law enforcement officers, and concerned citizens participating in this conference. They are a mandate for our President, this Attorney General, and every member of a Nation committed to the ideals of liberty and freedom for all.

It was the stories of slaves in cotton fields and on tobacco plantations that inspired ordinary Americans to create the Underground Railroad. Many of them arrived here with fresh wounds and deep scars of abuse. But they were healed with the hope of a better life of freedom.

Chicago is again a center of hope for those who have known only the suffocating fear of slavery. I’m proud to be your partner in ensuring the opportunities of the American dream for today’s victims of human trafficking.

Thank you.