DOT, DHS to train Amtrak workers to stop human trafficking
Eugene Mulero, E&E reporter
Thousands of Amtrak employees will receive training to help them spot suspected human traffickers and their victims under a program launched today by the departments of Transportation and Homeland Security.
Speaking at Union Station in Washington, D.C., Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the opportunity to better educate the Amtrak workforce would dramatically assist law enforcement authorities tasked with tackling human trafficking.
"We cannot let the American transportation system be an enabler of these criminal acts," LaHood said. "Human trafficking is a hidden crime. We may not think human trafficking is happening around us, but it is. Trafficking is going on right now in cities and small communities around America."
The Transportation Department, LaHood noted, is training more than 55,000 of its employees on how to identify and report suspicions of human trafficking to law enforcement authorities.
Last year, Napolitano said, Immigration and Customs Enforcement started more than 700 trafficking investigations resulting in nearly 1,000 arrests, more than 400 indictments and several convictions. This included a recent arrest in Alexandria, Va., of a suspected gang leader charged with trafficking young women.
"As you well know, transportation workers, including Amtrak police, train conductors, ticket counter staff and others, come into contact with thousands of people on a daily basis, making them well-positioned to identify situations that don't seem quite right, including potential signs of trafficking," she said.
The partnership builds on a White House directive calling for a crackdown on trafficking. President Obama last month called human trafficking "modern-day slavery" and pledged to expand training and guidance throughout federal agencies and among law enforcement officials. He also said commercial transportation workers, such as Amtrak's crew, need to partner with federal, state and local law enforcement.
"The bitter truth is that trafficking also goes on right here," Obama told an audience at the Clinton Global Initiative. "It's the migrant worker unable to pay off the debt to his trafficker. ... This should not be happening in the United States of America."
Despite asserting that Amtrak trains might not be used for such trafficking, Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman said he recognizes the value in training nearly 8,000 employees. "Amtrak sees this as being a good corporate citizen and a travel industry leader that needs to partner with those who want to end this," he said.