Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Human trafficking victims deported before ever getting chance to testify

The Kansas City Star

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala | In a dingy reception center across from the new terminal at La Aurora International Airport, Guatemalan immigration agents don surgical masks and brace for another day of controlled chaos.

A U.S. government passenger jet — one of up to seven a week — taxis to a stop. More than 100 disheveled deportees shuffle down the stairs and head for the center. Agents check for criminal records and swine flu and return shoelaces confiscated stateside, usually as a suicide precaution.

One thing the agents won’t do, however, is check to see if the deportees were victims of human trafficking while on U.S. soil.

“We don’t look at that,” said a Guatemalan immigration agent. “That’s done by the U.S. government before they send them here.”

In fact, that’s not the case.

Instead, The Kansas City Star found, the U.S. government compounds their suffering by deporting them back to the same impoverished conditions they fled in the first place. Up to one-fourth of the victims who might have testified against their traffickers were deported.

What’s more, deportees on one of two Kansas City-based government airlines have been abused or sedated in violation of federal regulations, The Star found.

“These are very disturbing allegations and this is not permitted under our system,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who heads the House subcommittee that oversees detention and deportation procedures. That is “completely at odds with our policy,” she noted, adding that The Star’s findings should be investigated.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials who charter the flights said they take great care to identify trafficking victims, but would not comment specifically on whether they screen all deportees for human trafficking status, or whether they are aware of deporting trafficking victims.

They said they have guidelines to prevent abuse of deportees, but they acknowledged that earlier this year at least one deportee was sedated on a Marshals Service flight in direct violation of those regulations.

Yet ICE said in a statement that it “takes allegations of trafficking very seriously and investigates any claims that a person makes to indicate they have been a victim of trafficking or trafficking-related crimes.”

The State Department and Congress recognize the need for more aggressive screening to keep from deporting human trafficking victims, said Luis CdeBaca, the director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

“We are going to be working … to make sure those vulnerable populations are not just shown the door,” he said.

Top officials, however, have known about the problem for years.

Trafficking expert Julianne Duncan, formerly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told federal officials in 2005 that trafficking victims — who are often forced into prostitution or hard labor — are “frequently deported rather than provided services. This is shockingly the case even for children.”

That’s allegedly what happened to Mardoqueo Valle-Callejas and many of the 388 workers swept up in a workplace raid last year at a Postville, Iowa, meat processing plant.

The Guatemalan father of five came to America illegally to earn money for his family. But he told The Star that he was forced to provide hours of free labor to his bosses, work when injured and that he had questionable fees deducted from his remaining earnings.

Friday, December 11, 2009

US ENVOY: Poor economy fueling slavery

HONG KONG — The global economic crisis may be driving more people into forced labor and other forms of modern-day slavery, a senior U.S. official said Friday.

Harder economic conditions have had a "driving effect" as labor recruiters exploit the poor with false promises of better jobs, said Luis CdeBaca, the U.S. ambassador for human trafficking issues.

Migrants are taking more risks and are willing to pay recruiters more and travel farther distances because of "increased desperation after the crash," he said.

Victims are often promised higher-paying jobs, only to find themselves deep in debt and virtual slaves working for little money in jobs such as domestic helpers or prostitutes.

"Though (human traffickers) deal in misery, what they're pitching is hope: hope for a better life, hope for a better opportunity," CdeBaca told reporters in Hong Kong.

He said many countries are enhancing their investigative abilities to fight human trafficking. In Asia, he suggested there was a growing focus on the problem and willingness to work with other regions, pointing to a recent report by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

In mainland China, forced labor — especially involving children — remains a major problem, according to a recent report by the U.S. State Department. Woman have also been forced into sexual slavery and sold as brides, the report says.

China's government does not fully meet international standards for fighting human trafficking, though it is making "significant efforts" to comply, the reports says. Chinese laws, for example, define trafficking in a limited way that doesn't automatically prohibit some forced labor or deem certain minors coerced into sex work to be victims.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Girl, 11, endures "horrific" sex trafficking ordeal

A woman whose 11-year-old daughter was targeted by a human trafficking ring in South Yorkshire has spoken of her family's "absolutely horrific" ordeal.

The mother, known only as Angela, described how her daughter was used for sex, being moved between flats and hotels in Sheffield.

She said a group of young men - who her daughter met through fellow pupils - used threats and violence to control the girl's behaviour for three years.

When Angela tried to intervene in the situation to help the girl her family was threatened.
She told the BBC men would tell her daughter that they were going to kill her family or burn down the house.

According to one charity, the girl is one of at least 400 families in the UK, affected by sexual exploitation in the last five years.

"They frightened her to such an extent that she really daren't do anything other that what they said," Angela said.

She described how her daughter initially believed the men were aged around 16 years old, and considered them her boyfriends, but soon realised they were older.

"What she soon realised was that none of them were genuine and they were handing her around from one to the other," Angela said.

"She said she was dealing with it, always kept saying she was dealing with it, she knew what she was doing."

However the girl managed to escape her mother's attempts to keep her safe.

"We'd lock all the doors and windows and she would actually manage to get through an upstairs window, she would jump out," Angela said.

At this time she started following her daughter when she left the house.

'Five-hour battles'
"We found out that these men were taking them and using them for sex. They were taking them to flats around the city. All these girls were under 13 years of age," she said.

"We didn't know what these men looked like which was the most scary thing because it was like being terrorised as a family by faceless individuals."

She said that her daughter started going missing for days at a time, and on one occasion for an entire week.

"We would have five-hour battles in the hall trying to stop her leaving the house, but at some point they have to go to school," she said.

Eventually, when Angela's daughter was 14 years old police involvement ended the girl's ordeal. No prosecutions were ever brought.

"It was absolutely horrific," Angela said. "Even thinking about it now makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end."

Teenage 'rebellion'
Catherine Tatman of the Leeds-based charity Coalition for the Removal of Pimping (CROP) said that grooming could affect people from all socio-economic backgrounds.

The charity has helped more than 400 families which have been affected by sexual exploitation in the last five years.

She added that signs of grooming could start off looking like normal signs of teenage rebellion.
"It may just be that they begin to come back in late, that they begin to experiment with alcohol or drugs," she said.

She added that other signs included dropping out of school and getting new possessions including mobile phones.

"It's a combination of lots of different factors which would really make you thinking that something above the ordinary is going on," she said.