Saturday, November 17, 2012

The State of Human Trafficking in California 2012: Another Reason for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

 

California Attorney General Kamala Harris earlier this week announced the release of report on  human trafficking in California.

Harris has made it a point to focus on human trafficking as a serious law enforcement issue.  The Attorney General's website, which also includes informational resources on trafficking, states:

"Human trafficking is the world's fastest growing criminal enterprise and is an estimated $32 billion-a-year global industry. After drug trafficking, human trafficking is the world's second most profitable criminal enterprise, a status it shares with illegal arms trafficking. Like drug and arms trafficking, the United States is one of the top destination countries for trafficking in persons. California – a populous border state with a significant immigrant population and the world's ninth largest economy – is one of the nation's top four destination states for trafficking human beings. Transnational and domestic gangs have recently expanded from trafficking guns and drugs to trafficking human beings.

Transnational gangs use cross-border tunnels to move not only guns and drugs, but also human beings, from Mexico into California. Domestic street gangs set aside traditional rivalries to set up commercial sex rings and maximize profits from the sale of young women. The perpetrators of human trafficking have become more sophisticated and organized, requiring an equally sophisticated response from law en¬forcement and its partners to disrupt and dismantle their networks.

The Internet and new technologies have also transformed the landscape of human trafficking. Traffickers use social media and other online tools to recruit victims and, in the case of sex trafficking, find and communicate with customers. While technology is being used to perpetrate human trafficking, that same technology can provide a digital trail – a valuable investigative tool for law enforcement to monitor, collect, and analyze online data and activities. Further, there are currently efforts underway to study and develop innovative technologies to prevent and disrupt human trafficking online. The Internet, social media, and mobile devices also provide new avenues for outreach to victims and raising public awareness about this atrocious crime."

  Ht-thumb

Here are some "Highlights" of the 2012 report:

--    "From mid-2010 to mid-2012, California’s nine regional human trafficking task forces identified 1,277 victims, initiated 2,552 investigations, and arrested 1,798 individuals."

--    "In the same two-year period, California’s task forces provided training to 25,591 law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, victim service providers, and other first responders. Several non-governmental organizations have also trained judicial officers, airport personnel, social service providers, pro bono attorneys, and retail businesses, among others. The variety of individuals who have been trained underscores the pervasiveness of human trafficking and the important role that governmental and non-governmental actors play in detecting trafficking and assisting victims."

--    "72% of human trafficking victims whose country of origin was identified by California’s task forces are American. The public perception is that human trafficking victims are from other countries, but data from California’s task forces indicate that the vast majority are Americans."

--    "Labor trafficking is under-reported and under-investigated as compared to sex trafficking. 56% of victims who received services through California’s task forces were sex trafficking victims. Yet, data from other sources indicate that labor trafficking is 3.5 times as prevalent as sex trafficking worldwide."

--     "Local and transnational gangs are increasingly trafficking in human beings because it is a low- risk and high, renewable profit crime. It is critical for federal, state, and local law enforcement and labor regulators to collaborate across jurisdictions to disrupt and dismantle these increasingly sophisticated, organized criminal networks."

--    "A vertical prosecution model run outside routine vice operations can help law enforcement better protect victims and improve prosecutions. Fostering expertise about human trafficking within a law enforcement agency and handling these cases outside routine vice operations can prevent erroneously viewing trafficking victims as perpetrators."

--     "Early and frequent collaboration between law enforcement and victim service providers helps victims and prosecutors. Victims who receive immediate and comprehensive assistance are more likely to help bring their traffickers to justice."

--    "Traffickers are reaching more victims and customers by recruiting and advertising online. Traffickers use online advertising and Internet-enabled cell phones to access a larger client base and create a greater sense of anonymity. Law enforcement needs the training and tools to investigate trafficking online."

--    "Technology is available to better identify, reach, and serve victims. Tools like search-term triggered messages, website widgets, and text short codes enable groups to find victims online, connect them with services, and encourage the general public to report human trafficking."

--    "Alert consumers need more tools to leverage their purchasing power to reduce the demand for trafficking."

Human trafficking is a low-risk, high-profit business – an estimated $32 billion-a-year global industry that has recently attracted the participation of increasingly sophisticated, organized criminal gangs. Domestic street gangs set aside traditional rivalries to set up commercial sex rings and maximize profits from the sale of young women. Transnational gangs use cross-border tunnels to move not only guns and drugs, but also human beings, from Mexico into California.

Addressing human trafficking has been identified by the American Bar Association President Laurel Bellows as a high priority.  It is important to note that increased border enforcement over the last few years have resulted in the expansion of human trafficking -- with increased enforcement contributing to higher fees charged by traffickers, with criminal elements increasingly attracted to this lucrative market.  Paying off trafficking debts in the labor, and sometimes sex, markets has increased as well.  And sadly enough, slavery has made a comeback of sorts.

Meaningful reform of the immigration laws that create lawful avenues for migration for low- and moderate-skilled workers would help reduce the market for human traffickers.  Thus, while Californiia Attorney General Harris's efforts to increase criminal prosecutions of human traffickers is one strategy for attacking this serious social problem, immigration reform is another imortant strategy as well.

KJ

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