Human trafficking, a form of modern day slavery, is growing.
It’s growing across the globe. It’s growing across the United States. Now, it’s growing locally. Recent news reports confirm its arrival in the Inland Empire and Southwest Riverside.
As an immigration lawyer whose practice takes me into various regional communities, I sensed its growing presence based on tell-tale signs a few months ago.
According to law enforcement officials, a recent murder in Moreno Valley was linked to this trend. The individual, a victim of trafficking, was killed as he tried to escape his captors.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents believe traffickers are moving the center of their trafficking operations from Los Angeles to remote areas in the Inland Empire to avoid detection. As a result of this shift, various Riverside and San Bernardino communities may soon experience an increase in trafficking-related crimes of violence.
DHS Launches Anti-Trafficking Campaign
The Department of Homeland Security, acknowledging the growth of human smuggling, recently announced a new program to help fight trafficking.
The DHS inititative – named the Blue Campaign – takes a three-prong approach: (1) increased public awareness, (2) improved victim assistance , and (3) enhanced law enforcement training and coordination.
As an immigration attorney in Southern California who has witnessed the effects of the physical and emotional abuse inflicted on trafficking victims, I applaud the action taken by the Department of Homeland Security.
Janet Napolitano, DHS Secretary, emphasized, “The battle against human trafficking is a shared responsibility involving the Department’s federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners, non-profit and non-governmental organizations, governments around the world and communities across the nation.”
Human Trafficking – An Enormous Problem
Human trafficking, as defined by the United Nations, is the process by which a person is recruited to be controlled and held captive for the purpose of exploitation.
Normally, it involves the use of coercion, deception, or force to place men, women, and children in slavery or slavery-like conditions.
Exact statistics are impossible to compile. However, estimates show why national and international teamwork is necessary to combat the problem:
– Trafficking, a nine billion dollar industry, is the fastest growing criminal enterprise
– Worldwide approximately 27 million people are enslaved
– 14,500 to 17,500 immigrants are trafficked into the U.S. per year. Of this total, 70% are women, 50% are children
– Just in Los Angeles alone, about 10,000 females, adults and children, are hostages of underground brothels and prostitution rings.
Other common types of forced labor includes working is assembly sweatshops, making and sewing clothes, growing food for exports, cleaning homes, and providing childcare for the families of thier slaveholders.
Why Can’t Trafficking Victims Escape?
As a Riverside immigration attorney who has helped victims of trafficking, I’ve learned there are two main reasons why they do not simply leave their captors.
First, many victims fear for their safety, and the safety of family members, if they leave. Traffickers are linked across borders. Victims are aware that traffickers’ connections can lead to retaliation.
Second, most victims have nowhere to turn. They lack relatives or friends in the U.S. They lack English skills. They lack money. They lack legal immigration documents.
In short, fear and hopelessness keeps them obedient to traffickers.
U Visa And T Visa – Legal Protections For Trafficking Victims
Although legal help, alone, is not enough – as I have learned through difficult San Bernardino immigration attorney cases – it is an important part of the solution.
In the United States, there are various forms of unique immigration programs, two crafted for trafficking victims, the U visa and the T visa.
Since the requirements are strict, and evidence is difficult to obtain, the help of qualified legal counsel is critical for victims.
The U Visa
To qualify for a U visa, the four requirements are that the person seeking the visa must:
- Be a victim of “certain criminal activity”
- Have information about this crime
- Be willing to cooperation with law enforcement in investigation or prosecution
- Have suffered physical or psychological trauma
The T Visa
For a T visa, the person seeking its benefits must:
- Be or have been a victim of a “severe form” of trafficking in persons
- Have cooperated with law enforcement investigation or prosecution about trafficking
- Be likely to suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and extreme harm if he or she is deported
In some situations, a victim may be elgible to apply for relief under asylum, temporary protected status, or the violence against women act. It’s also possible a victim might seek protection under a lesser known visa, the S visa.
Ultimately, as a crime against humanity, trafficking is an insult to all of us. And it will take all of us to defeat it.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics