Human Smuggling / Trafficking in Persons


Since 1991, with funding from the Department of State, OPDAT has provided expert assistance and case-based mentoring to foreign counterparts to develop justice systems that can combat transnational crime, corruption, and terrorism consistent with international and regional conventions, protocols, and standards. Many of the countries in which OPDAT works are sources, transit points, and destinations for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.  OPDAT supports anti-trafficking in persons (TIP) and anti-human smuggling (HS) efforts in these countries by deploying Resident Legal Advisor (RLA) to provide technical assistance through case mentorship, victim-centered skills development, advising counterparts on how to build institutional standards of practice, and legislative advocacy.  In order to do so, OPDAT draws upon criminal justice experts with related expertise.

Joint Task Force Alpha

Since June, OPDAT has supported the Attorney General’s Joint Task Force Alpha, which targets transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) engaging in human smuggling to the United States, including TCOs that direct and / or facilitate HS in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.  Among other priorities, the task force seeks to improve collaboration between the United States and Mexico as well as with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

OPDAT supports Joint Task Force Alpha by providing capacity building and mentoring to anti-HS prosecutors and investigators as well as identifying cases with potential for U.S. based prosecutions.  OPDAT has held various case coordination meetings with JTFA and anti-HS units throughout the region resulting in several bi-national and multilateral investigations of high-priority human smuggling organizations (HSO). While most cases remain under investigation, some cases have already had positive results in the United States and elsewhere.  For example, in one case U.S. based investigators have detained over 60 individuals related to a Guatemala-based HSO operating in Texas.

El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras

In Guatemala and Honduras, OPDAT focuses on providing capacity building and case-based mentoring on complex investigations and prosecutions, including anti-HS and TIP and coordinating these efforts in the region.  OPDAT RLAs work very closely with anti-human smuggling units in Guatemala identifying high priority target human smuggling organizations and supporting investigations and prosecutions in the region as well as in the United States. For example, in September 2021, OPDAT hosted working group meetings to promote collaboration on investigations into transnational human smuggling networks operating in Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States.  The meetings focused on high priority smuggling cases involving the death or murder of Guatemalan migrants. 


OPDAT seeks to address the disconnect between Mexican law and international standards.  OPDAT works with counterparts to create appropriate procedures to address the needs of TIP victims, especially women and children.  Additionally, OPDAT helps to educate Mexican legislative entities about international standards regarding victim services, and the challenges involved in prosecuting TIP crimes in Mexico. 

One of the program’s goals is to encourage the drafting of state and / or federal protocols and legislation addressing key issues regarding victims’ rights, as well implementing legal procedures to facilitate the prosecution of TIP crimes.

OPDAT also provides technical assistance to both federal and state TIP prosecution units in Mexico on best practices in the use of evidence, case development, victim engagement, and trial practice.  In the past, work included collaborating with DOJ’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) to work with expert witnesses and prosecutors to create predicate questions for trial testimony. 

OPDAT provides case-based mentoring on TIP investigations and prosecutions, both in purely domestic cases and in cases that have cross-border ties.  OPDAT also facilitates cooperation on bilateral TIP cases.  OPDAT also addresses the gap in the prosecution of money-laundering activity connected to TIP crimes through the use of working groups and join training, as well as case mentoring in cases with a financial crimes element.

OPDAT assistance has paid dividends: OPDAT has helped TIP prosecution units at both the federal and state levels successfully bring to court and obtain convictions in several TIP cases in various Mexican states, including those involving TCOs.  Notably, an OPDAT-mentored Mexican prosecutor was recently recognized by State Department as TIP Hero in the 2021 TIP Report and her office leads the nation in the number of TIP convictions, with successful prosecutions of cases exemplifying every modality of trafficking including sex trafficking, forced begging, labor trafficking, and domestic servitude.


OPDAT’s Judicial Studies Institute (JSI) built the capacity of 70 judges from Mexico, El Salvador, and Colombia to adjudicate TIP cases. They learned best practices for managing TIP cases and how international treaties could be used to supplement limitations and deficiencies in the national laws and regulations in order to such cases.


In Bangladesh, OPDAT supported the Government of Bangladesh in its creation of seven Anti-Human Trafficking Tribunals (TIP Tribunals) to prioritize the prosecution and adjudication of trafficking cases.  Following the establishment of the TIP Tribunals, OPDAT has conducted workshops bringing together judges, investigators, and law enforcement who work on TIP cases to exchange information and experiences. 

OPDAT is currently partnering with ICITAP to plan a workshop on victim-centered investigations and prosecutions to take place in early September 2022.

In Indonesia, OPDAT, in conjunction with Indonesian justice sector counterparts, has conducted programs for investigators, prosecutors, and NGOs in provinces experiencing high levels of TIP cases.  These programs focused on interviewing victims, calculating restitution for victims, and building the capacity of police and prosecutors to investigate and prosecute TIP cases. OPDAT also facilitated a TIP regional study tour where an Indonesian delegation traveled to Thailand to discuss cross-border issues and regional solutions to address TIP in Southeast Asia.

In Nepal, OPDAT has partnered with USAID to provide training to investigators on proactive techniques in TIP cases, in “train the trainer” sessions designed to reach police personnel throughout Nepal.  OPDAT also facilitated Nepali investigators and a prosecutor in participating in “Victim Centered” training that will be used in OPDAT’s future programing for TIP and HS capacity building among Nepali investigators and prosecutors.  OPDAT has conducted training to combat money laundering and financial crimes for a broad swath of Nepali criminal justice sector actors, including TIP investigators. OPDAT is also working with Nepali partners for implementation of plea provisions in Nepal’s statutes that can assist Nepal in addressing its TIP and HS crime issues.

In Maldives, OPDAT provides case-based mentoring to the Maldivian prosecutors in human trafficking prosecutions. OPDAT has also convened multi-disciplinary consultations with migrant smuggling and anti-human trafficking stakeholders representing government, justice-sector, and civil society.  OPDAT provides capacity-building support to the Maldives Anti-Trafficking in Persons Office.

In the Philippines, OPDAT has led more than a dozen programs over the past three years and helped develop the curriculum for teaching cybercrime investigation at criminology schools.

Central and Eastern Europe

In Central and Eastern Europe, OPDAT supports the strengthening of justice sector institutions and builds their capacity to effectively investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate criminal activity, including TIP, which is closely linked to TCOs.  In addition to working with justice sector practitioners; OPDAT works with non-governmental organizations (NGO)s to provide material and psychosocial support to trafficking victims; and with lawmakers to ensure domestic statutes comply with international obligations, standards, and norms. 

OPDAT has provided technical skills workshops to police, prosecutors, judges, and NGO personnel from across the Balkans on identifying trafficking victims, victim interviewing, and victim support through the investigative, judicial, and reintegration processes.  These programs include mentorship for judges on effects of trauma on adult and child victims and the teaching of best practices for the adjudication of trafficking cases. 

In addition to these regional projects, OPDAT has provided assistance in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Kosovo, North Macedonia, and Serbia on the creation and management of law enforcement task forces for combatting TIP and has provided ongoing mentorship to their leadership.  The establishment of a network of investigators and prosecutors, an OPDAT-supported initiative, was one of the key factors in BiH’s promotion from Tier 2 watchlist status to Tier 2 in the State Department’s 2021 TIP Report. 

In Albania and North Macedonia, OPDAT case-based mentoring has resulted in numerous convictions resulting from TCOs that transported people to the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, and other countries.  Recently in Serbia, as a result of OPDAT mentoring and advocacy for use of a task force to combat TIP, the Organized Crime Prosecutor’s Office and the Anti-Corruption Department in Belgrade, charged a police officer and several other members of an organized criminal group (OCG) with illegal border crossings and human smuggling. 


Africa suffers from a combination of factors that make it vulnerable to various types of crime, including TIP.  OPDAT’s strategies in Africa place a premium on strengthening the Rule of Law, pursuing threats to their source, and working with African partners to improve the ability of their security services to counter TIP. 

Updated July 13, 2022

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