United States Has Global Approach to Aiding Trafficking Victims

By Michelle Austein
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recognizes that trafficking victims have rights and require services and temporary immigration relief, Gabriel Garcia, chief of ICE’s human smuggling and trafficking unit, said March 20.

ICE, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, “has the unique organizational ability to investigate trafficking in persons with a global reach and provide short-term immigration relief to trafficking victims,” Garcia said in testimony before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism.

Of the approximately 600,000 to 800,000 people coerced or forced into crossing international borders each year, about 14,500 to 17,500 end up in the United States, according to U.S. government estimates.

ICE is one of several U.S. agencies working to stop trafficking through training to help better identify victims, improving services provided to victims and by public awareness campaigns.

Trafficking victims rescued in the United States are granted “continued presence,” which is a short-term immigration protection that allows certified victims of trafficking to remain in the United States for up to one year to enable them to apply for a “T visa.” Those who receive T visas are able to stay in the United States and bring their families over as well.  They have access to federal benefits and services and can accept employment in the United States for up to three years and then apply for lawful permanent residence, Garcia said.

ICE officials conduct their work worldwide. Fifty-six ICE attaché offices help foster strong international relationships, Garcia said. The attaches work with local law enforcement for better coordination of investigations. ICE officials target recruiters, brokers, document providers, travel agencies, corrupt officials, smugglers and businesses engaged in criminal activities at both source and transit countries. ICE also cooperates with foreign law enforcement authorities to target bank accounts, wire transfers and other funding mechanisms that fuel trafficking enterprises, Garcia said.

These partnerships with foreign law enforcement have led to the rescue of many victims. In one case, an attaché in Moscow was told by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Yekaterinburg, Russia, that a mother was concerned about her daughter being held in a home in Florida. ICE agents located the girl, who had been held against her will, beaten and forced into prostitution. The ICE attaché in Moscow asked a Russian anti-trafficking nongovernmental organization to contact and counsel the victim. The trafficker was arrested and pled guilty.

ICE officials “are engaged in an aggressive outreach” campaign to educate local, state and federal law enforcement and nongovernmental organizations on how to identify human trafficking and what services are available to trafficking victims, Garcia said. DVDs and brochures about trafficking are given to law enforcement officers. ICE trains its own staff regularly as well, by requiring agents to complete a Web-based human trafficking course.

Garcia said ICE has hosted and participated in training sessions overseas as well, and has developed training programs that are used in Thailand, Hungary and El Salvador. “We will continue to expand our outreach and training efforts to share our expertise in employing the victim-centered approach as we continue to build coalitions.”

In fiscal years 2005 and 2006, ICE initiated 647 investigations into human trafficking organizations that resulted in 370 arrests and 193 criminal convictions, according to a February ICE fact sheet.

The full texts of prepared testimony presented at the hearing are available on the Web site of the Committee on Homeland Security.

For more information, see Human Smuggling and Trafficking.