Children rescued in sex trafficking busts

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SACRAMENTO-The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Crimes Against Children Unit and its state and local law enforcement partners are pleased to announce the recovery of six children who were being victimized as prostitutes in the Chico, Redding, Sacramento, and Vallejo areas.

The number of minors recovered locally is one of the highest in the nation, making this local achievement one of Operation Cross Country VI’s top success stories.

The Sacramento Division of the FBI and multiple local and state law enforcement participated in the operation from June 19 through June 23, 2012. In addition to six juveniles recovered in Sacramento, multi-agency teams also arrested six pimps during the three-day operation. The local efforts account for nearly eight percent of the children rescued during Operation Cross Country VI.

In addition to the FBI Sacramento Division, the following agencies participated in last week’s local operation:

  • Butte County District Attorney
  • California Highway Patrol
  • California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control
  • Chico Police Department
  • Redding Police Department
  • Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department
  • Sacramento Police Department
  • Vallejo Police Department

Operation Cross Country is a multi-day, national enforcement action targeting the domestic sex trafficking of children. The operation is coordinated by the Innocence Lost initiative and is a partnership between the FBI, state and local law enforcement partners, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Since the first Operation Cross County in June 2008, multi-agency teams in the Sacramento Division’s area of responsibility have recovered 23 children and arrested 18 pimps.

Nationwide, 226 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in 57 cities participated in Operation Cross County VI, resulting in the rescue of 79 children and arrests of 104 pimps. There are 47 task forces and working groups throughout the country addressing the issue of child sex trafficking.




Up to 27 million people living in slavery: US

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Up to 27 million people are living in slavery around the world, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton estimated as the US unveiled its annual report into human trafficking.

But the report showed that as governments become more aware of the issue, instigating tough new laws and programs to help victims, progress is being made in wiping out what it called the “scourge of trafficking.”

“The end of legal slavery in the United States and in other countries around the world has not, unfortunately, meant the end of slavery,” said Clinton.

“Today it is estimated as many as 27 million people around the world are victims of modern slavery, what we sometimes call trafficking in persons,” she said at the unveiling of the report at the State Department.

“Those victims of modern slavery are women and men, girls and boys, and their stories remind us of the kind of inhumane treatment we are capable of as human beings,” said Clinton.

“Whatever their background, they are the living, breathing reminders that the work to eradicate slavery remains unfinished.”

As America prepares to mark the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the emancipation of US slaves, people must reflect on “how much further we have to go to free all these 27 million victims,” Clinton added.

Out of the 185 countries included in the 2012 report, only 33 complied fully with laws in place to end human trafficking, putting them at the top of a four-tier ranking system.

But five countries had moved up from the bottom blacklist known as tier 3, including Myanmar and Venezuela, to be included among the 42 countries now on what is known as a tier 2 watchlist.

Myanmar was removed from the blacklist because the government “took a number of unprecedented steps to address forced labor and the conscription of child soldiers; these steps amount to a credible commitment to undertake anti-trafficking reforms over the coming year,” the report said.

Syria however fell onto the blacklist for the first time, in a move which could cut off any US aid and make it harder to get US backing for funds from organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“The government of Syria does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination oftrafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so,” the 2012 Trafficking in Persons report said.

Among the 16 other countries on the blacklist were Algeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Kenya slipped down onto the watchlist for the first time in five years, while Nigeria lost its place on tier 1, moving down a notch as the report highlighted that women and children were forced into labor and sex trafficking.

But Clinton hailed the fact that a total of 29 countries had been upgraded to a higher ranking, “which means that their governments are taking the right steps.”

They included Bangladesh, which was bumped up to tier two for making significant efforts to comply with minimum standards, including passing “a comprehensive anti-trafficking law” in December.

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, director of the office to combat trafficking in persons, said while the number of people officially identified as victims of trafficking and slavery had gone up by 28 percent since last year to 42,291, the numbers of prosecutions in 2012 had also increased by 10 percent to 3,969.

So while countries “still have a little ways to go” there was “the beginnings, I think, of a real trend,” he said.

This year’s report focuses on how to better protect the victims, and urges governments to meet the challenge head-on.

“Traffickers are criminals. Governments — which alone have the power to punish criminals and provide legal recourse to survivors — cannot waver in their efforts to confront modern slavery,” the report says.

But it also argues that human trafficking takes many guises and it is not just about moving people across borders to trap them in prostitution.

“The United States government, and increasingly, the international community, view ‘trafficking in persons’ as the term through which all forms of modern slavery are criminalized,” it says.

“The essence of the trafficking experience is the denial of freedom, including the freedom to choose where and how you live, the freedom to work or choose not to work, the freedom from threats, and the freedom of bodily integrity,” the report says.


California cracks down on global slave labour, Law forces firms to check supply chains

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A new California law will force retailers and manufacturers to disclose how they guard against slavery and human trafficking throughout their supply chains, ratcheting up scrutiny of some of the largest U.S. corporations.

Beginning today, about 3,200 major companies doing business or based in California, a list that includes Apple and Gap Inc., will be required to disclose steps they take, if any, to ensure their suppliers and partners do not use forced labour.

Companies risk getting sued by the state attorney general if they flout that law. But experts say the real pressure will come from the court of public opinion: consumers who care about ethical working conditions and take an interest in how their favourite brands get made.

Apple has already come under fire. Suicides at supplier Foxconn, which makes the iconic iPhone, raised questions about working conditions at plants in southern China.

Apple declined to comment on the new legislation.

The heightened scrutiny expected under the law, which applies to retailers and manufacturers in the state with more than $100 million in global sales, is already spurring companies to take a closer look at practices they follow, and in some cases improve them, lawyers say.

“It’s a law that makes sure that companies who are aware of the issues, but could be managing them better, come to the realization that this is the moment where they better get a better handle on them,” said Jon Sohn, a lawyer at McKenna, Long and Aldridge in Washington. “Anything that can harm your brand should be taken seriously.”

Child labour and slavery, broadly defined as forced labour, run rampant not just in emerging markets like Asia and Latin America, but also within developed economies such as the United States.

The U.S. Department of Labor says children and forced labourers produce 130 kinds of goods in 71 countries, numbers that have probably increased during the economic crisis.

More than 12 million people are victims of forced labour, the International Labor Organization says.

The Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking, a group that helps human-trafficking victims in Los Angeles – often people working in restaurants and the beauty trade – cosponsored the legislation and wants consumers to reward companies that do the most to prevent forced labour.

“Companies following the policy and going beyond what is required should be congratulated,” said Stephanie Richard, the coalition’s policy director. “We encourage people to support companies that utilize this law to re-examine their supply chains.”

Justin Dillon, head of advocacy group slaveryfootprint. org, points to Apple and Gap as companies that have made major efforts to improve and communicate their policies following labour issues at their foreign suppliers .

The suicides at the plants associated with Apple cast a harsh spotlight on what critics dubbed a militaristic culture, pushing workers to the brink to meet unceasing demand for the company’s iPhones.

In response, Apple stepped up the number of supplier facilities it audits, to ensure they meet its code of conduct. Apple has also trained more workers in its supply chain about their rights under the Apple code of conduct.

Gap, whose apparel brands include The Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy, over the past decade has been accused of benefiting from sweatshops and child labour in Saipan and India.

Anxious to preserve its corporate image, Gap has yanked clothing allegedly manufactured by children from its stores and stepped up monitoring of factories in its supply chain to make sure migrant workers are not forced to hand over their passports to managers or are otherwise coerced.

“What the bill does is beg the question,” Dillon said. “That’s great that that’s what you’re doing, but what more are you going to do?”

Ahead of the new law, expected to largely affect the electronics and clothing industries, Silicon Valley companies including Intel and Agilent Technologies have posted documents on the Internet detailing their policies.

Intel said third-party audits of key suppliers cover slavery, but not human trafficking.

But it plans to specifically address human trafficking early next year.

A drive to slash costs has quickened in tandem with global trade and industry competition in past decades. Increasingly complex supply chains that criss-cross the world make it harder for executives to scrutinize all the companies that have a hand in producing their products.

Under the new law, companies are required to describe the extent to which they verify risks of human trafficking and conduct independent and surprise audits of their suppliers.

They also have to disclose whether they force suppliers to certify the materials they use comply with laws regarding human trafficking and slavery, and whether employees receive training to reduce the risk of slavery.

Keith Bishop, a partner at law firm Allen Matkins, said he advised companies directly affected by the new law, and then received a second wave of inquiries from many of those companies’ suppliers.

They wanted to know what measures to take to meet their customers’ requirements.

“The act, rather ingeniously, specifically regulates relatively few companies, but impacts a very large number of companies,” Bishop said.



Farm-labor contractor accused of violating visa rules

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Written by
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A federal agency has sued a California-based labor contractor and farms in Washington and Hawaii alleging discrimination against more than 200 Thai workers in what was called its largest human trafficking case in agriculture.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed lawsuits Tuesday against Beverly Hills-based Global Horizons Inc. and six farms in Hawaii and two in Washington.

 Global Horizons lured workers from 2003 to 2007 with promises of steady jobs and agricultural visas but confiscated their passports and threatened to deport them if they complained, the agency said in a statement.

 It said workers faced abuse and threats while being provided dilapidated housing.

 The agency is seeking back pay and damages.

 Global Horizons could not be immediately reached for comment because the phone numbers listed on its website were not working.

 Thai workers at times were forced to live in rat-infested rooms where many workers did not have beds, the federal agency said.

 They were forbidden from leaving, assaulted by supervisors and isolated from non-Thai workers who appeared to be working under different conditions, the agency said in its statement.

 “All workers — foreign and U.S. — are protected under the law and have the right to complain of such employment abuses which poison the moral fabric of our society,” said Olophius Perry, district director for the commission’s Los Angeles district office.

 Global Horizons recruited Thai workers to come to the United States under the federal government’s agricultural guest worker program, known as H-2A.

 Six Global Horizons recruiters were indicted last year in federal court in Hawaii on charges of luring hundreds of workers from Thailand with promises of lucrative jobs before confiscating their passports, failing to honor their labor contracts and threatening to have them sent home.

 The indictment said Global Horizons supervisors charged impoverished Thai workers between $9,000 and $26,500 in recruitment fees to secure jobs in the United States.

 They threatened to send the workers back to Thailand when they complained about a lack of work and poor living conditions, knowing many would be afraid to return because of the substantial debts they undertook to finance the trip, court papers said.


A new video from our friends at the San Jose Police Department

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Media Advisory


San Jose Police, partners, create and launch video to educate movie-goers
about modern-day slavery
In an effort to raise the public’s awareness of modern-day slavery, the San Jose Police Department’s Human Trafficking Task Force, working with the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office and federal agencies, will begin showing a 60-second video in South Bay movie theaters on April 1st. The public service announcement encourages persons to take action if they suspect a human trafficking situation by phoning the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-3737-888). The campaign is made possible through a grant from the United States Department of Justice / Bureau of Justice Assistance.

The awareness campaign will run for 12 weeks, in 13 theaters, on over 90 screens, including the Eastridge Mall 15, Mercado 20, Oakridge 20, Salinas Northridge Mall 14, and Santa Cruz 9.

Since 2005 the SJPD task force has partnered with the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking to identify and rescue victims of trafficking, provide comprehensive services to trafficking survivors, train law enforcement, and increase the public’s awareness of trafficking. The task force and coalition bring together federal and local law enforcement agencies with victim-services professionals to provide a multi-disciplinary response for trafficking victims in the four South Bay counties; Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey.

The video was designed by SJPD Police Artist Gil Zamora, and features original music and lyrics by San Jose musician Alyssa Rose.

The video can be viewed at:

The issue of modern-day slavery has been a focus of the U.S. Department of Justice since 2000, when Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The act defined trafficking as the obtaining of labor, or the act of commercial sexual exploitation, of a person through force, fraud, or coercion. A grant program created in 2005 funds 40 collaborative efforts nationwide. According to the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, issued by the Department of State, 12.3 million people are held in forced or bonded labor, or forced prostitution, worldwide.

According to South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking chairwoman Perla Flores, “Under the Trafficking Victims Protect Act, victims are guaranteed certain rights and services, such as immigration benefits, medical services, and pro bono or low-cost legal assistance. Working with the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking, we are able to assist victims in reclaiming their inherent rights to safety, security, and hope.”

The South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking is a collaborative of local victim-services providers including the Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Center, Next Door Solutions to Violence, Community Solutions, the YWCA of Silicon Valley, and others, and is funded through a grant from the U.S. DOJ / Office for Victims of Crime.

Law enforcement task force members include the San Jose Police, FBI, ICE, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, the United States Attorney’s Office, and the United States Department of Labor.

Additional information can be found at the following:

South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking:
National Human Trafficking Resource Center:
National Hotline:
(maintained by the Polaris Project)

500 Indians allegedly trafficked to U.S.

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Narayan Lakshman

They have initiated class action lawsuit for human trafficking

Over 500 Indian citizens who were brought to the United States to work in shipyards, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, have initiated what might well become the largest class action lawsuit for human trafficking in U.S. history.

According to a statement by the American Civil Liberties Union, which has joined in the lawsuit in support of the plaintiffs, the workers were trafficked into the U.S. through the federal government’s H-2B guest-worker scheme “with dishonest assurances of becoming lawful permanent U.S. residents and subjected to squalid living conditions, fraudulent payment practices, and threats of serious harm upon their arrival.”

The court filing by the plaintiffs alleges that recruiting agents employed by the marine industry company Signal International withheld the guest-workers’ passports, forced them to pay exorbitant fees for recruitment, immigration processing and travel, and threatened the workers with serious legal and physical consequences if they did not abide by restrictive employment conditions imposed by the company.

Psychological abuse

Further, the complaint against Signal International alleges that after they arrived in the U.S., the men were compelled to live in the company’s “guarded, overcrowded labour camps, subjected to psychological abuse and defrauded out of adequate payment for their work.”

In a statement, the ACLU said it was also charging the federal government with falling short of its responsibility to protect the rights of guest-workers in the country. According to the lawsuit that it filed along with the workers, the treatment of the workers violated the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

In comments made to the ACLU, Kurian David, a class representative in the lawsuit, said: “We hope the court will give us all a chance to make our voices heard and to right the wrongs that were done against us. Signal and the other defendants should be held accountable for what they did to so many guest-workers who worked for them.”

Further, the ACLU quoted Murugan Kandhasamy, a class representative in the lawsuit, as saying: “I speak on behalf of hundreds of Indian guest-workers subjected to abuse by Signal and its co-conspirators. We came to America for good jobs and opportunity, which we were denied, and now we are asking for justice.”

An ACLU Human Rights Programme attorney, Chandra Bhatnagar, noted that the workers had been “victimised by systemic deficiencies in the U.S. guest-worker program and subjected to trafficking and racketeering at the hands of the defendants,” adding that they would be seeking to assert their fundamental human rights.


Prosecutors: 10 suspects arrested in connection with human trafficking ring

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by Lisa Chavarria and Brad Woodard / 11 News

Posted on February 17, 2011 at 8:41 AM

Updated Thursday, Feb 17 at 6:26 PM

HOUSTON – The owners of a local bar and restaurant are among 10 people accused of bringing young Mexican women and girls to Houston and forcing them into prostitution, U.S. Attorney Jose Angel Moreno said Thursday.

The 10 defendants were taken into custody during an overnight raid at the La Costenita night club and El Club Restaurante, located in the 8300 block of Clinton Drive.

“I applaud the bravery of the young lady who made the 911 call for help in this case, and commend the efforts of the agency members of the HTRA for the investigative efforts to rescue the victims in this case and apprehend their oppressors,” Moreno said.

The three-count indictment against the defendants was returned by a Houston grand jury on Tuesday and was unsealed Thursday.

“The crimes alleged in this indictment are unconscionable,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard C. Powers.

“While we can’t erase the harm done by these horrible acts, the FBI and other members of the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance will continue to ensure the victims of these crimes are protected and their traffickers are brought to justice.” 

Maria Rojas, 46, one of the owners of the bar and restaurant, and her 38-year-old brother, Jose Luis Rojas, who operated La Costenita and adjacent properties, are accused of conspiring to hold persons in conditions of peonage and recruiting, holding, transporting and providing and obtaining persons for sexual services.

According to the indictment, Maria and Jose Rojas were involved in the recruitment of Mexican nationals, ages ranging from 14 to 30, to travel to the U.S. with the false expectation of legitimate jobs in bars and restaurants, beginning in 1999. Once the women arrived, the indictment alleges that the suspects used force, fraud and coercion to compel the women to work as prostitutes at their businesses.

“Their families back home are under threat,” said Deputy Adrian Garcia with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s put into the minds of these women if they don’t cooperate, if they do have family back home terrible and horrible things will happen to them.

The indictment also alleges that beginning in 2003, the conspirators changed their tactics and began relying on pimps to provide the girls and young women and to keep them from escaping.

Maria and Jose Rojas are accused of initially making their profits by doubling the amount of the smuggling fee charged by coyotes, which was then taken from the earnings of the women. When the operation changed to include pimps, the Rojas siblings allegedly collected $15 from each deal made by the prostitutes.

“They’ve found a way to keep them in perpetual debt,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruben Perez. That dress they bought them for $15 is suddenly a $100 dress. The food they provide, instead of $10, it’s $50.”

The conspiracy charge levied against Maria and Jose Rojas carries a statutory penalty of up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine upon conviction.

The remaining eight defendants are Javier Guevara Belmontes, 46; Maday Martinez Lindero, 34; Evelin Carloine Aguera, 37; Claudia Perez Ramirez, 27; Silvano Santos, 33; Francisco Midardi Maradiaga, 33; Olvan Renieri Ramirez Caceres, 25; and Aleyda Maria Juares, 27.

Investigators said Belmontes also owned, controlled and operated La Costenita and El Club Restaurante. Martinez and Aguera were allegedly managers at La Costenita and at the adjacent property where the prostitutes would take their dates. Ramirez, Santos, Jimenez and Caceres allegedly worked as lookouts to warn of police presence. Investigators said Juares charged the victims for condoms and the use of the rooms at the adjacent property.

Those eight defendants, along with the Rojas siblings, are charged with conspiring to harbor illegal aliens for commercial advantage and private financial gain. If convicted of that offense, the defendants could be sentenced to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Maria Rojas is also charged in the third and last count of the indictment with illegal re-entry into the United States after deportation, which carries a maximum statutory penalty of two years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine upon conviction.

“Human and sex trafficking is modern-day slavery and it’s happening right here in our own back yard,” said Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. “These indictments prove that we will not tolerate it and that we will pursue the individuals involved in this kind of crime to the furthest extent of the law. These arrests, while they’re just the tip of the iceberg, are an example of the results that working together diligently with local and federal agencies can produce.”

Houston, because of its proximity to Mexico, has become a hub of sorts.

“We have an international airport, we’re an international city,” said Steven Goff with the Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition. “It’s easy to blend in. Our proximity to Mexico, we also have a huge commercially-oriented sexual business industry here in Houston.”

Maria and Jose Luis Rojas, Maday Martinez Lindero, Silvano Santos and Claudia Perez Ramirez are Mexican nationals. Four others—Evelin Carolina Aguero, Olvan Renieri Ramirez Caceres, Aleyda Maria Juares and Francisco Maradiaga Jimenez—are Honduran nationals. Javier Guevara Belmontes is a legal permanent U.S. resident originally from Mexico.

The defendants all made initial court appearances Thursday and were scheduled to appear at a detention hearing Friday afternoon.

The case was investigated by the FBI, ICE, Harris Co. Sheriff’s Office, The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, the Texas Attorney General’s Office; the Department of State – Diplomatic Security Service, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Houston Police Department.