Friday, April 26, 2013

Public Comment Sought for Federal Plan for Trafficking Victim Services

Public Comment Sought for Federal Plan for Trafficking Victim Services
The Departments of JusticeHealth and Human Services, and Homeland Security are inviting public comments on a federal strategic plan to improve services for victims of human trafficking. “Coordination, Collaboration, Capacity: Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States 2013–2017” strengthens collaboration and coordination across the federal government while empowering survivors.
Members of the public are invited to review and make recommendations to strengthen the plan by 11 p.m. ET, on May 24, 2013.
Review the strategic plan.
Learn more about the public comment period, including guidance on submitting comments.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Ending Sex Trafficking


Ending Sex Trafficking

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To the Editor:
In “Free Speech and an Anti-Prostitution Pledge” (editorial, April 23), you use a free speech argument to oppose the United States government’s requirement that organizations that receive federal funds have a policy opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.
The issue is actually human rights. As lead counsel on the amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of the existing policy, I, along with at least the 46 other human rights organizations that signed on to our brief, know well that the prostitution industry, the endpoint of sex trafficking, must be opposed if we stand any chance of ending sex trafficking. Not to do so would be the equivalent of working to free the slaves without working to dismantle the slavocracy.
Executive Director
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women
New York, April 23, 2013

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Shelter for Victims of Human Trafficking

Group seeks $2 million for shelter to serve Tampa Bay area human trafficking victims

TALLAHASSEE — When a pimp gets arrested and a young girl, sometimes 14 years old, is rescued from a life of servicing 15 men six nights a week, where does she go?
Laura Hamilton says Florida doesn't yet have an answer.
At best, recent victims of human trafficking, or sex slavery, are checked into rooms at short-term shelters like the Salvation Army, which they quickly leave.

"Why would a young girl that has been through this horrible situation …" he asked, "why would they go back into that environment?"

Hamilton and Cpl. Alan Wilkett of the Pasco Sheriff's Office went to Tallahassee on Tuesday to propose the plan to a group, including Amanda Prater, chief of staff for the Department of Children and Families; Wansley Walters, secretary of Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice; and legislators. During the presentation, state Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, had a question.
For the past year and a half, she says, she has been working on a program called Bridging Freedom to rehabilitate victims. The plan, backed by the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force Against Human Trafficking, is to build a campus in a secluded area of Pinellas County that would be staffed by therapists and deputies, where victims can stay for long-term help. It would be the first of its kind in the state, she says. Hamilton estimates building the campus will cost $2 million.
"They have Stockholm syndrome," Hamilton said. "They will run back to the trafficker."
The Tampa Bay area is the second most popular place in Florida for human trafficking behind Miami, according to bridging Between 2010 and 2011, 51 children were rescued from sex trafficking in the area, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2012, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, an advocacy group, received 55 calls related to the issue from Tampa and 135 from Miami.
Some of them are runaways, said Wilkett, who is also a member of the task force. Others are brought from countries in Central America or Asia. He said having national sports teams, large hotel chains and a hefty tourism base make the Tampa Bay area "fertile ground" for human trafficking.
He has dealt with the victims, usually young girls, who are rescued. Some from other countries have no papers, "just the clothes on their backs," he said. "Mentally, they're very broken down."
After the meeting, Fasano said, he offered whatever help he can give. With this year's legislative budget hearings over, he said, Bridging Freedom will go as a proposal for the 2014-2015 budget.
This summer, he said, he'll help Hamilton draft a plan and a budget to present next spring when they will ask for funding from the county, state and federal levels. After the $2 million is used to build the campus, Hamilton said, there are recurring fees such as salaries for the 40 or so staff members.
Fasano said it's "absolutely feasible" that the proposal would be approved in a budget hearing.
"I don't believe we've put an emphasis on, 'What do we do with the victims?' " he said. "There's no place to put that victim."
Alex Orlando can be reached at or (727) 869-6247.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Kids Facing Deportation Are Not Entitled to Lawyers


Child Migrants, Alone in Court

Shannon Freshwater
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BELKIS RIVERA, 14 years old, sat in the Los Angeles immigration courtroom, in a black coat and purple scarf, shaking with fear.
When Belkis was 6, the gang that controlled her neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, killed her grandmother and then her uncle, and demanded that her brothers join as lookouts. Belkis’s mother took the boys and fled to the United States, leaving Belkis behind with family. When the gang started stalking and threatening Belkis, then 13, she followed, making the terrifying six-month journey across Mexico by herself. She was caught by the Border Patrol last September, while crossing into the United States.
Now she faced one more trauma: America’s judicial system.
In a nation that prides itself on the fact that everyone accused of a crime — murderers, rapists — has the right to a lawyer, undocumented immigrants, even when they are unaccompanied children, are not entitled to a public defender. Although some children are represented by pro bono lawyers or, for the few whose families can afford it, private lawyers, it’s estimated that more than half of them go to court alone. These children — some as young as 2 years old — have no one to help them make the case that they should not be deported.
The issue is gaining urgency. While the overall number of apprehensions of immigrants unlawfully entering the country is at a 40-year low, the number of children coming illegally and alone is surging, largely as a result of increasing drug-fueled violence in Central America, particularly Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. One in 13 people caught by the Border Patrol last fiscal year were under 18. Seventeen percent of them were 13 or younger. Close to 14,000 minors, twice as many as the previous year, were placed in federal custody. (This figure doesn’t include an equal number of Mexican children who were quickly deported.)
Many of these children have a legitimate fear of what could happen to them if they are sent back to their home countries. A recent study by the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit group, showed that 40 percent of unaccompanied children potentially qualify for statuses that exempt them from deportation. Among the most likely possibilities: asylum, because they fear persecution in their home country, or a special immigrant juvenile status for children abused or abandoned by a parent.
And yet, while more recent legislation has improved the odds, only around 7 percent of those who were placed in federal custody between 2007 and 2009, and who had received a ruling by mid-2010, were winning their cases. Not surprisingly, those with legal representation were nearly nine times more likely to win.
In court, these children are up against trained government lawyers. They must testify under oath, file supporting documents and navigate the complexities of immigration law, with no knowledge of the country’s language or customs, and often with only the help of a translator. Children in the courtroom often seem confused and frightened. Staff members with Kids in Need of Defense, or KIND, a group whose board I serve on and the principal provider of pro bono lawyers for these children, told me of a boy in Los Angeles who carried his teddy bear for comfort and a toddler in a Texas courtroom who wet his pants when he faced the judge.
Most immigrant children come to reunite with family members, and are released to those families while their hearings proceed. But many are also fleeing harm.
Take Estefany Aracely Climaco Acosta, who left El Salvador at 12 to join her mother in Los Angeles. When Estefany was 10, an uncle arrived one morning at the mud hut the girl shared with her grandmother and other relatives. The uncle knew that only Estefany was home at that hour. He tied her hands behind her back and raped her. She screamed, but the hut was in an isolated spot. “No one could hear me,” she said, of the rapes she endured for two years. A KIND pro bono lawyer took her case and she was granted asylum last August.
Wilmer Villalobos Ortiz was orphaned in Honduras when he was 8. He was left with an abusive aunt, who whipped him with an electrical cord and forced him to quit school in the seventh grade. She put him to work 17 hours a day at her pool hall and bar, where the patrons included members of the 18th Street gang, who targeted him as ripe for recruitment. When he was 14, they asked him to join, and then they threatened him. “We will kill you,” one of them said, putting a knife to Wilmer’s stomach. “You are either with us, or against us.” They did worse things to him that Wilmer won’t discuss.
In 2008, when he was 15, Wilmer escaped, heading to the United States. He spent a month and a half riding on top of freight trains to get through Mexico. He saw members of the Zeta narco-traffickers stop his train, club a woman unconscious and snatch her young son from her arms. Another time, he saw a boy his age stumble getting on a moving train and heard his screams as the boy’s legs were cut off by the wheels.
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He was caught by the Border Patrol after crossing the Rio Grande into Texas. He spent a year in two detention centers for children before landing in a group foster home in Arlington, Mass., where he attended high school while his deportation case proceeded.
His case was taken on by Daniel White of Goodwin Procter, a volunteer lawyer with KIND who normally handles transactional corporate law. He showed Wilmer what would happen in court, what questions would be asked, what to say. Last spring, Wilmer got his green card, after winning the right to stay in the United States.
Wilmer is luckier than most — each day, immigration courtrooms are filled with children who have no lawyer to represent them, and whose stories we rarely hear. These children share one constant: their suffering doesn’t end when they cross the border.
UNDER normal circumstances, the Border Patrol is supposed to transfer captured children out of its holding cells and into the custody of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement within 72 hours. But last year children were held for up to two weeks in Border Patrol cells with no windows to the outside, showers or recreation space, according to a report by the Women’s Refugee Commission based on interviews with 151 detained children. Some complained of inadequate food and water. One described a cell so crowded the children had to take turns lying down on the concrete floor to sleep. The lights were never turned off.
These children need our help. In recent years KIND has recruited more than 5,000 lawyers. But they are still only able to triage their limited resources; we need far more volunteers, and more law firms willing to count pro bono work toward lawyers’ billable hours.
Pro bono lawyers are only part of the solution. These children need public defenders who are experts in immigration law. Congress should include money to hire lawyers for all unaccompanied minors as part of any comprehensive immigration reform. Yes, these children broke the law coming to this country, but if deporting them will put them in danger, they deserve a fair hearing in our courts, something anyone, especially a child, cannot get without a lawyer.
Ana Suruy wants every child to have the help she believes saved her life. In Guatemala, a drug trafficking cartel targeted Ana’s mother for extortion. When the cartel threatened to kidnap her family, Ana’s mother agreed to pay. But it wasn’t enough; the cartel poisoned the family’s dog and cat, and twisted the necks of their flock of ducks. A man left a threatening note one day under their door, singling out Ana, then 13 years old, for harm. Her mother, terrified, called the police, and then put Ana in the hands of a smuggler to take her north.
Ana made six attempts to cross into the United States. She was robbed at gunpoint, abandoned by a smuggler, saw dead migrants in the Arizona desert, and spent two days walking with no food or water, before the Border Patrol caught her and put her in a detention center in Phoenix. After three months, she was released to a cousin on Long Island. He went with Ana to her first court hearing. People had warned Ana that without a lawyer she didn’t stand a chance, but her relatives, landscapers making minimum wage, had no money to spare.
“I had so much fear,” Ana said. “I didn’t want to go back to Guatemala.” The man who wrote the threatening note had somehow obtained her cellphone number and was calling, saying he knew where she went to school in New York, and making sexually suggestive sounds. As she waited in the hallway of the Manhattan courtroom for the judge to summon her, KIND’s local pro bono coordinator came up and asked if she needed a lawyer.
Five lawyers from the firm Paul Hastings in New York would tag-team her representation over four years. They obtained Guatemalan police reports, hired an expert to testify on narco-threats and prepared Ana for what felt to her like a sustained grilling.
Last December, Ana, then 19, was granted asylum. Without a lawyer, she would most likely have been deported, like so many others. That could be the fate of Belkis Rivera, who has to return to court in Los Angeles this summer. Her mother works at a nail polish factory, and can’t afford $3,500 for a private lawyer. Now a seventh grader, Belkis will have no one to stand beside her.
On Wednesday, thousands of supporters of immigration reform rallied in Washington, while opponents of the measure tried to shout them down. People can be of different minds on the immigration issue and how to handle it, said Justin Goggins, one of Ana’s lawyers. But this is one aspect we ought to be able to agree on. Federal officials are predicting that the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border illegally will jump by around 70 percent in this fiscal year. “At the end of the day,” Mr. Goggins said, “no kid should be out there to defend themselves in this situation with no voice.”

Sonia Nazario, a former projects reporter for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of “Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite With His Mother.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Google launches global human trafficking helpline and data network

Google launches global human trafficking helpline and data network

Aims to help the 2.5 million estimated to be in forced labor at any given time.

Google has committed
 $3 million to three human trafficking groups in a bid to build an international helpline network fuelled by data.
Google announced the launch of the Google Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network at an event held by its Google Ideas think tank in Washington. The idea had already been floated last summer by the think tank, and it contributed $11.5 million to the cause in 2011. But this week it has cemented its commitment and brought together NGOs Polaris Project,Liberty Asia and La Strada International.
Between the three of them the groups have the US, Europe and Asia covered, but the task is a massive one. According to the post by Google human trafficking enslaves 21 million people, while stats gathered by the UN's Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking estimate that 2.5 million people are in forced labor at any given time—56 percent of whom are based in Asia. Most of those trafficked are aged between 18 and 24 and 43 percent are forced into the sex trade. Of course, there can be no accurate stats on the industry, so the true figures are perhaps even more devastating. That's why Google wants to bring together groups across the globe, sharing essential data among them all to more effectively target the problem. For instance, every time a call is logged, its location and all the factual data provided by the caller can be logged and analysed as part of a wider web of information, which in turn would reveal emerging patterns of where people are being trafficked or where they're working.
"Looking at the existing data, we found that the number of reports in the US of sex workers calling a hotline because they're being controlled by a pimp is double on Wednesday than on any other day of the week," Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, told the Atlantic when discussing what data applications can reveal. Groups that are already monitoring the industry and have existing relationships with law enforcement can then hopefully react faster to local or regular bursts in activity.
Palantir Technologies, which was born out of intelligence agencies' expertise and has helped tackle fraud in the US, is donating its analytics platform and data integration software to the project, while is helping scale Polaris' call tracking capabilities. US-based Polaris, which has already been making use of the tech, has collated data from 72,000 calls to date. Considering 56 percent of victims are located in Asia and the Pacific region, the amount of untapped data there is huge. Getting people to trust anti-trafficking groups and overcome their fear to make contact is another matter altogether. But if the NGOs can group together to make some kind of actionable difference, perhaps that trust will follow.
According to a report by Foreign Policy, which attended the event, head of philanthropy at Palantir Technologies Jason Payne flagged up one issue that could potentially limit the breadth of data analysis the project should be carrying out.
"Just because someone's human rights have been eviscerated, doesn't mean that their civil liberties and electronic rights can be eviscerated," he said, talking about treating victims' data with the same respect as anyone else's. "When we talk about building an international collaboration of data, it's very important to think about the responsibility we have to make sure that only people who need to know have access to that information. Especially when we start to talk about personal identifiable information, phone numbers, names, and even more so, health information—HIV status, etc."
With the proper controls in place, however, the initiative could help shine a spotlight on a global industry that is worth the same as the UK fashion industry (reportedly around £21 billion annually) but operates in the shadows, remaining invisible to border controls and law enforcement.
This article originally appeared in Wired UK.