Agencies Unite, Launch Blue Campaign to Fight Human Trafficking
The spectre of modern slavery casts a long shadow, but U.S. Customs and Border Protection, along with fellow components of the Department of Homeland Security, is shining a new, blue light into the darkness.
CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin joined with leadership from DHS, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center today in Washington to announce the Blue Campaign, an effort designed to combat human trafficking.
The campaign draws its name both from international anti-trafficking efforts that have adopted a "blue" theme, but also from the proverbial "thin blue line" represented by law enforcement, reflecting the central role played by members of the law enforcement community in fighting trafficking.
"We believe this has to be a one-U.S.-government effort, and we must work closely with all departments to effectively forge a way to combat human trafficking," said Alice Hill, senior counselor to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. "Law enforcement is really the backbone of our efforts at DHS to fight human trafficking."
CBP's role in the campaign centers on education, both with international stakeholders and within the agency. At the event, Bersin showed attendees a "shoe card," designed to be given by officer and agents to those they suspect may be victims of trafficking. The card, designed to be hidden from the victim's trafficker, provides contact information for vital aid.
Photo Credit:James Tourtellotte
Internally, Bersin touted the fact that more than 41,000 CBP employees have already received training on the details of the global trafficking network and how to identify both potential traffickers and their victims.
"We take all crimes seriously," said Bersin, "but human trafficking has a special place in our category of focus. It is a very serious crime, but it is also a moral outrage. It's repulsive, it's slavery, and our people need to be alert, because so often the victims of human trafficking are not aware when they cross our border that they are about to be enslaved."
CBP has also established an advertising campaign in selected countries in Central and South America designed to educate members of the population of the potential dangers of traffickers. Called No Te Engañes, or Don't Be Fooled, the ads are airing on TV and radio in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. (Human Trafficking)
In addition to training federal law enforcement officers, the Blue Campaign also will focus on educating local law enforcement about the nature of human trafficking and how to identify it.
"We are uniquely poised in federal government to work collaboratively with local law enforcement to reach the communities that need to be reached," said USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas. "We must train officers to understand how to be able to identify victims, and to know that victims need not be defendants, but people to whom we should extend a helping hand."
One theme raised both by Bersin and by ICE Administrator John Morton was the need for increased enforcement that will accompany the focus on education. Morton noted that in the past year, human trafficking investigations within ICE were up 31 percent, and that those increased investigations led to 165 convictions on human trafficking charges nationwide.
Another key to the Blue Campaign, according to the speakers, is the role of both individual community members and non-governmental organizations and charities - many of which were represented in the audience - in helping enhance government efforts to fight human trafficking.
"We must recognize the tireless efforts of those who came before us - the prosecutors, the investigators, people in the media and advocates of all kinds, and we are here building on those efforts," said Morton. "We build on those efforts today in the hope that one day we won't have to investigate human trafficking at all, and we have much work to do between now and that day."
The materials created for the campaign outline many of the sinister elements of the human trafficking trade, including the fact that most victims are brought into the country on promises of new lives for themselves and their families, only to have their dreams taken from them.
It was clear at the event that the nature of the crime inspires passion among the leadership of DHS and its component agencies as they face this mission.
"We are proud," said Bersin, "to join forces with the NGO [non-governmental organization] community, with our partners in the federal government and in DHS to give an unequivocal message to those who would engage in the abhorrent practices of modern day slavery: We will find you. We will arrest you. We will prosecute you, and we will free your victims."