Good morning. Today, I’m joined by my friend and former Department of Justice colleague, Secretary [Tom] Perez from the Department of Labor, as well as Deputy Director [Daniel] Ragsdale from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). We are here to announce a significant new step forward in the federal government’s ongoing effort to end human trafficking.
Human traffickers prey on some of the most vulnerable members of our society to exploit them for labor, for sex and for servitude of all kinds. Their crimes, appropriately described as modern-day slavery, have no place in a nation that has overcome the scourge of slavery. That’s why the Department of Justice is committed—and I am personally determined—to hold human traffickers accountable, provide support to trafficking survivors, and stand up for the rights and the dignity that they deserve.
In 2011, my predecessor as Attorney General, Eric Holder, joined forces with then-Secretaries [Janet] Napolitano and [Hilda] Solis to launch the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team Initiative—or ACTeam Initiative—to coordinate and streamline interagency human trafficking enforcement efforts and make them more effective than ever before. Designed to complement Project Safe Childhood and the Innocence Lost National Initiative—both of which are focused on reducing child sexual exploitation—the ACTeam Initiative concentrated enforcement efforts on labor trafficking, international sex trafficking and sex trafficking of adults by force, fraud and coercion in six pilot sites across the country: Atlanta, El Paso, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Memphis and Miami. The ACTeams received intensive training in cutting-edge anti-trafficking strategies, operated as an integrated team of federal agents and federal prosecutors, and coordinated closely with national anti-trafficking experts and the interagency Federal Enforcement Working Group.
I am proud to report that the results of this initiative have been extraordinary. In the first two years, the number of prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking crimes rose significantly across the country, but were dramatically more pronounced in the ACTeam pilot districts—where we more than doubled the numbers of cases filed and defendants charged. In the two years before we convened the ACTeams, these six districts had filed a total of 16 human trafficking cases against 35 defendants. During the two years of Phase I, they filed 35 cases against 75 defendants. The ACTeams contributed significantly to our overall nationwide progress in bringing human traffickers to justice.
Now, why have these teams been so successful? When federal officials like U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Labor, and the Civil Rights Division Specialized Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit jointly commit to making the issue of human trafficking a top priority, they generate tremendous momentum. And by harnessing an infusion of expertise, streamlining coordination and promoting accountability to the interagency group of national human trafficking experts, the ACTeam Initiative provides the support necessary to translate this momentum into results.
These results demonstrate the effectiveness of the ACTeam Initiative, but numbers alone do not convey the significance of the human stories behind these cases—of the resilience of survivors and the tireless work of our law enforcement men and women to restore freedom to those enslaved. In just two short years, the ACTeams dismantled a 10-defendant, multi-district sex and labor trafficking ring that exploited dozens of young women in El Paso; brought down a Miami-based sex trafficking enterprise that stretched as far as Australia; and secured over $700,000 in restitution for a victim of a Kansas City-based sex trafficking conspiracy.
Behind each of these cases, there is a human life. One young woman from a remote village in Mexico had been working since the age of 12 to help feed her impoverished family. She met a man who seemed to be an answer to her dreams, who promised her marriage, a better job and a way out of a life of grinding poverty. This man drew her in with deception and lies, isolated her from everyone she knew and smuggled her into the United States, where she was subjected to beatings, threats and rape—trapped in a life of forced prostitution until she courageously made her escape.
Survivors like this young woman are the reason we launched the ACTeam Initiative— and in fact, the dedicated agents who assisted her following her escape were members of the Atlanta ACTeam. As she herself explained to the court that heard her case, meeting federal agents who were willing to listen and believe her was a vital turning point. And the agents’ commitment to a victim-centered, trauma-informed approach was instrumental in helping her reclaim her life and in bringing her traffickers to justice. It is a victory for the entire ACTeam that one of her traffickers was sentenced to over 20 years in prison. But it is an even more significant victory to see this young woman restored to a life of freedom and dignity.
The prosecution results that the ACTeams achieved are victories because they transform the lives of victims like this young woman. These victories are a testament to the power of interagency partnerships and remind us of the heights we can reach when we work together.
Today, I am pleased to announce that we are building on the success of Phase I and launching Phase II of the ACTeam Initiative. Phase II will expand the footprint of the initiative in new districts throughout the country and incorporate an array of innovations that will further enhance training, coordination, enforcement and victim support. Starting today, interagency teams of federal enforcement partners representing each of our departments are invited to apply for selection in a competitive interagency selection process. Phase II ACTeam sites will be designated by interagency consensus and announced in the coming months. I am calling on all U.S. Attorneys to confer with the FBI, Labor and Homeland Security leadership in their districts to consider applying for Phase II and serving as leaders on the forefront of this effort. I look forward to working with the new districts once they are selected.
I want to thank all of the agents, prosecutors and law enforcement officials whose tireless work and relentless focus have made our anti-trafficking efforts such a success so far. I’d especially like to recognize the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices; the invaluable contributions of the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, and specifically the leadership of Secretary [Jeh] Johnson and Director [James] Comey, who have made DHS and the FBI critical members of this partnership; and the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, which has helped to make the ACTeam Initiative so effective. Although Secretary Johnson wasn’t able to join us today, I am grateful that Deputy Director Ragsdale and other partners from Immigration and Customs Enforcement Headquarters are here. Finally, I’d like to thank our partners throughout the administration and across the country for their unwavering commitment and outstanding work. Above all, I want to express my gratitude to the courageous survivors of human trafficking who, day in and day out, work hand in hand with federal agents and prosecutors to ensure that their voices are heard in our courts and that their traffickers are brought to justice.
At this time, I’d like to turn things over to Secretary Perez, who has been an outstanding partner and dedicated leader for the ACTeam Initiative.