I have meant to post something on human trafficking for some time. This would include the areas of slavery, sex and labor trafficking. It is a big subject, and not too easily condensed in a blog format such as this. So it was always pushed to the back burner. Other topics seemed more timely. And frankly, were easier to deal with. Regular blog commenter smany recently has suggested modern slavery and human trafficking would be a good topic. He is correct. It is a good topic. But one that is difficult because it is so massive. So here goes.
Some years ago I became aware that trafficking of labor was a serious problem in certain parts of the US. It is slavery in modern times. No point in calling it something else. There are many parts of the country where this pernicious activity operates beyond governmental jurisdiction and the reach of law enforcement. One area involves Asian gangs who import human slaves into the US for work in restaurants or sweat shops. These people are promised a golden opportunity in the US and pay an exorbitant price for it. Fake documents are offered. Once here, the documents are withdrawn. They are told to seek resident alien status under a religious persecution claim. This gives the person freedom to stay while the case is adjudicated - a process that can take years. Or never occur.
Once here, the worker is quickly transformed to a slave like status. Here all kinds of unspeakable things can happen. The large cities in the US all have an underground slave market. Some are Asian. Others are from Mexico and Central America. Some from Eastern Europe.
Another area where this occurs is in Northern California and Southern Oregon. Here large portions of the states have fallen under the control of Mexican and Central American drug cartels. People are forcibly transported from south of the border to work as slaves on marijuana farms. These areas operate with relative impunity, beyond the reach of state and federal policing power. There are a myriad of federal laws. But they are pretty much worthless if the government can't or won't enforce jurisdiction on the trafficking cartels and the areas in which they operate. One thing to note here: There is a suggestion that legalizing marijuana would solve this problem. My question is this: "How?" If the government can't enforce its laws now, how are they going to collect taxes?
Recently, a sex trafficking ring was broken up here in Kansas. Underage girls were being transported from Oklahoma. This kind of activity must go on everywhere, I would wager.
State and Federal Laws
Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons (TIP), is a modern-day form of slavery. It is a crime under federal and international law; it is also a crime in almost every state in the U.S.
Federal Anti-Trafficking Laws
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 is the first comprehensive federal law to address trafficking in persons. The law provides a three-pronged approach that includes prevention, protection, and prosecution. The TVPA was reauthorized through the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013.
Under U.S. federal law, “severe forms of trafficking in persons” includes both sex trafficking and labor trafficking:
Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age, (22 USC § 7102; 8 CFR § 214.11(a)).
Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery, (22 USC § 7102).
More US Federal Laws on Trafficking:
WGBH Boston [1/29/13]
If you think slavery ended in 1865, think again.
Human traffickers have picked up where Jim Crow left off. If that seems far-fetched, just listen to Luis CdeBaca at the U.S. State Department.
“In the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, there was a perception that the problem of slavery, of sharecropping, was a thing of the past,” CdeBaca said.
“And, quietly, the abusers were bringing in immigrants to replace the African American community.
Years before he became U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Combat Human Trafficking, CdeBaca was with the Justice Department investigating slavery in the U.S.
“The involuntary servitude and slavery program had been a little bit on the back burner during the '70s and '80s because of the gains of the Civil Rights
Movement,” he said. “And, then, by the '80s and '90s, we were starting to see — whether it was Guatemalans, or Mexicans or others — suffering often in the same farms in the American South picking tomatoes, cucumbers, onions. So, when I had a chance to work on a farm worker slavery case, I didn’t shy away from it.”
About 18,000 people are trafficked to the U.S. each year, according to the State Department. What do they have in common? Most are indebted to smugglers and traffickers. According to the Polaris Project, a national anti-human trafficking group, victims have also been pressed to work in factories, farms, strip clubs, begging and peddling rings and as domestic workers — for little or no money.
Matt Friedman of the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking said those coercive conditions have always existed.
“To kind of engender people into the sex industry, or objectionable jobs like fisheries, or sweat shops and so forth — that’s never stopped,” Friedman said.
In Boston, San Francisco, New York and other American cities, immigrants have found themselves working in restaurants. A kitchen is where an ambitious, middle-class 19-year-old woman from Fujian, China, ended up — a long way from her dreams. I’ll call her “Ming-Wei.” This is one woman's story of labor trafficking.
Years ago, she stood in line at Bangkok’s modern airport waiting to board a flight to the U.S., as I’m standing here now.
“When I transferred Hong Kong to Thailand, they gave me a fake passport, but the picture is of myself,” Ming-Wei said.
She entered into an agreement with a smuggler. To take you from China to the U.S., smugglers charge as much $75,000 per person. In Mexico, they’re called coyotes. In East Asia, they’re known as snakeheads. They help get you across rivers, under fences, over mountains and through deserts. But sometimes they just put you on a plane. Per the instructions of her snakehead, Ming-Wei pretended to be a citizen of Thailand and was provided a fake passport.
“Nothing information matched with me,” Ming-Wei said. “But the only thing is the picture of me. But they trained me to look like the person. Actually, I’m Chinese.”
Once onboard, both her Chinese passport and fake Thai papers were confiscated by the snakehead. She landed at JFK without documentation. Ming Wei, as instructed by the smuggler, filed for political asylum based on religious persecution.
“They, the snakehead, told me [to claim asylum] because of religion, like I believed in Buddha or Jesus,” Ming-Wei said. “Actually, I don’t believe anything.”
What she did believe was that she had arrived in a place where dreams come true.
“And you could live in a big house,” she said. “You could buy your own car. You could buy a very nice good car, something like that, education, or a lot of beautiful things — a good job.”
Officials at the airport gave her a date to show up for an immigration hearing. And what happened after she cleared customs has been repeated for many trafficked immigrants arriving to America, according to the Polaris Project. Outside the international terminal, she was met by a driver, someone she didn’t know.
“I just followed him, stayed there for one night,” she said.
That was in New York’s Chinatown. The next day she was driven to a restaurant in Pennsylvania. And then another restaurant, and then another: all belonging to the same wealthy Chinese family. Ming-Wei was told that she had to pay back the smuggler who brought her here from China via Bangkok; a cost of $8000 that quadrupled when room and board were later added.
“I can’t ask [how much money I’m paid], I can’t ask,” she said. “I’m not allowed to ask. And I get whatever they pay me.”
That often came to less than $100 per month, working in the restaurant from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. the next morning, for two weeks straight and one day off.
“The underground restaurant network is very amazing,” said immigration attorney Lauren Burke.
News Junkie Post [1/15/12]
Most people think that slavery is a crime of the past. However, this notion couldn’t be any further from the tragic reality of a well organized criminal activity which victimized more than 30 millions women and children worldwide. As matter of fact, there are more people being enslaved today than at any other time in human history. There are two distinct facets of this modern slave trade: one concerns victims who are sold, bought and used as sex slaves, the other one pertains to people exploited for labor purpose. In this article we will only try to get a grasp on the global sex trade aspect of human trafficking.
Sex slavery is not limited to brothels is Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines or the Dominican Republic. In countries where prostitution is legal, like Germany, traffickers, pimps and dangerous organized crime organizations such as the Russian mafia or ethnic Albanians are controlling most sex workers, even the ones who claim to be “independent”. According to recent estimates, there are currently around 200,000 children between the age of 12 to 15 who are sold for sex by pimps/traffickers every year in the United States. The problem is epidemic, and it often hides in plain sight.
Even so it marks a desire from the US government to focus on the issue, the problem is so vast and global that this action is unlikely to make a dent. It is likely that the only positive impact will be to raise public awareness on the issue. By issuing its Trafficking in Person Report 2011, the State Department has been active in tracking human trafficking worldwide, country by country, and unlike previous reports the current report had the honesty to identify the United States as one of the hubs for modern day slavery.
Sex Trafficking, Globalization and the Internet
Until the communication revolution of the Internet, sex trafficking was mainly confined to brothels and street corners. But since then, the information super-highway has given criminal organizations the tool to turn sex trafficking into a multi-billion a year enterprise. It is more profitable than drug and weapon trafficking for a very simple reason: once a 100 kilos shipment of cocaine or heroin has been sold in the streets, it is gone. On the other hand, the “investment” made by human traffickers on the buying end- in women or children- will keep turning a profit over a fairly long period of time.
Often large criminal organizations work together to control the recruitment of the victims, the transit and the enslavement at the destination point. The Russian mafia and Albanian gangs have the upper hand in Europe, and often work in association with recruiters/pimps in the Middle-East-where the biggest hub/distribution point is Beirut, Lebanon- to provide Estonian, Ukrainian or Lithuanian women, which are in “high demand”,for the rich “buyers” of the Gulf.
In Africa, the two biggest sources for human trafficking are currently Nigeria and Ghana. In a scheme that is more or less universal, women are recruited locally- often by other women- under the pretense of job opportunities aboard. But once they have reached their destination, either Italy, Greece, Belgium or Germany, their passports are taken away by pimps, they do not have legal immigration status, and they are forced to prostitute themselves-usually after being severely beaten and raped- to pay off the debt of their transit to Europe. According to a recent report from the British police, 75 percent of the sex trade in the UK is controlled by brutal Albanian gangs. In Germany, 75 percent of sex workers come from former Eastern block countries.
In the West, the Internet has become the number one platform for buying women and children for sex. Victims, from various countries of origin, are trafficked through pseudo-independent, but in reality pimp controlled escort services, chat rooms, and even “dating” web sites freely advertizing on the internet with ads such as “Meet Russian women online”. In the United States, there are countless brothels disguised as “massage parlors”, and in the burgeoning strip club business industry, “exotic dancers” are in fact turning tricks in VIP rooms. In Texas, migrant women from central America- either from Guatemala or El Salvador- are lured into crossing the US border by Coyotes working with local pimps, Mexican gangs and Salvadorian/US gang MS13, and will likely end up being sex slaves in Cantinas or massage parlors.
Human Trafficking: A Tragic Symptom of a Broken World
The cynics will say that prostitution is the “oldest profession in the world”. However, very few women enter this line of work willingly. In all cases they are forced into it by adverse socio-economic circumstances. The fall of the Soviet Union, and the rapid rise of Russian organize crime in its aftermath has flooded Western Europe and the Middle-East with an unprecedented influx of former Eastern block women seeking the dream of a better life and hoping to support their families back home. It is the same for poor women and children in rural areas of Thailand, Cambodia or the Philippines who are bought by local recruiters- for sometime as little as $150.00- and then shipped to Japan where they will become sex slaves in brothels controlled by Yakuzas.
Sophisticated criminal organizations are exploiting a situation of despair created by a global system where human beings are not much more than a resource and a commodity. Mega international corporations have outsourced countless jobs to seek a labor pool which can be paid slave wages, just like global organized crime has found a gold mine in human trafficking. And fundamentally, Albanian gangs, the Russian mafia, MS13 or the Mexican drug cartels are applying the same brutal rule of “free market” capitalism-which is to provide a product for a demand-with 30 millions enslaved human beings.