WashingtonCNN —When slavery was outlawed in the US in 1865, the 13th Amendment included one exception.
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” the amendment reads.
The penalty has remained on the books in more than a dozen states, even though it hasn’t been enforced since the Civil War. But next month, voters in Alabama, Louisiana, Vermont, Oregon and Tennessee will be given the opportunity to exorcise the punishment from their states’ constitutions once and for all, according to a CNN review of pending ballot initiatives.
The proposed amendments would either explicitly rule out slavery and indentured servitude as potential punishments or remove the terms from state law altogether.
Advocates are hailing the initiatives as long overdue and hope that state-level movements will one day lead to the removal of such language from the 13th Amendment altogether, though some argue that the move underscores a larger need to lift rules permitting forced labor from inmates for little to no pay, a practice that has been likened to indentured servitude. None of the five changes being considered next month would eliminate prison work.
“If their populaces vote for this at the state level, then we have to believe that their congressional representatives will also have to support it as a federal measure,” said Bianca Tylek, the executive director of Worth Rises, a non-profit that is campaigning to remove the clause from the 13th Amendment. “The more states that do this, the more federal support we can garner.”
The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP Office) is pleased to announce seven new awards under the Program to End Modern Slavery (PEMS). Starting October 1, 2022, these programs will implement innovative and transformative approaches to combat human trafficking, including a focus on financial inclusion in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe; climate and displacement in Bangladesh and Kenya; sex trafficking in Nigeria; and public health in India and South Africa. PEMS’ commitment to strengthening the field of prevalence research will continue through the funding of a program led by the International Labour Organization, in partnership with the International Organization for Migration, UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and the University of Georgia, to develop operational definitions, methodologies, and uniform guidance for the measurement of trafficking in persons, including forced labor.
2022 Program to End Modern Slavery Award Recipients Include:
Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) received $2.3 million to develop an evidence lab rooted in high-quality data collection in Nigeria. This program will support the Nigerian government, and specifically the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), to increase efficacy in anti-trafficking programming within the country.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) received $2 million to develop operational definitions, methodologies, and uniform guidance for the measurement of trafficking in persons based on the definitions in the United Nations Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons and the United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and on the definition of forced labor based on the definitions in International Labour Organization Conventions on Forced Labour. This guidance will help facilitate prevalence estimation and allow both researchers and practitioners to better understand the nature of human trafficking with a coordinated set of research tools.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) received $2.3 million to address human trafficking in Kenya that exists due to vulnerabilities and displacement exacerbated by climate change. IOM will employ a variety of livelihood support models in order to build economic resilience in communities facing economic insecurity due to climate change. Additionally, IOM will work to create awareness of human trafficking among specified populations. The program will pilot a range of interventions through a phased approach and refine program activities based on the outcomes of randomized interventions.
Each admitted to role in forced farm labor in Operation Blooming Onion
BRUNSWICK, GA: Three men have been sentenced to federal prison in separate but related cases in which they admitted providing forced labor for south Georgia farms.
Javier Sanchez Mendoza Jr., 24, of Jesup, Ga., was sentenced to 360 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to Conspiracy to Engage in Forced Labor; Aurelio Medina, 42, of Brunswick, was sentenced to 64 months in prison after pleading guilty to Forced Labor; and Yordon Velazquez Victoria, 45, of Brunswick, was sentenced to 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to Conspiracy, said David H. Estes, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. Mendoza and Medina are citizens of Mexico illegally present in the United States and are subject to deportation after completion of their prison terms.
There is no parole in the federal system.
“These men engaged in facilitating modern-day slavery,” said U.S. Attorney Estes. “Our law enforcement partners have exposed an underworld of human trafficking, and we will continue to identify and bring to justice those who would exploit others whose labors provide the fuel for their greed.”
The cases were charged as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation, Operation Blooming Onion, which tracked a wide-ranging conspiracy to bring farm workers from Central America into the United States under the H-2A visa program under fraudulent pretenses and to profit from their labor by underpaying the workers and keeping them in substandard conditions. The case has been designated as a Priority Transnational Organized Crime Case under the OCDETF program.
As described in court documents and testimony, Mendoza admitted that from about August 2018 to November 2019, in Glynn, Wayne, and Pierce counties, he was a leader in a venture to obtain and provide labor and services for farms and other businesses. He did so by recruiting and unlawfully charging more than 500 Central American citizens to obtain H-2A visas – specifically granted for temporary agricultural labor – and then withholding the workers’ identification papers and threatening them and their families in their home countries to force them to work for little or no pay and in deplorable conditions.
A key victim testified during sentencing that Mendoza selected her from another work crew after her arrival in Georgia from Mexico and brought her to live with him, maintaining control through threats and intimidation and raping her repeatedly for more than a year – including deceiving her into believing she had married him. When she escaped, he kidnapped her at knifepoint from a home where she was babysitting children who were playing in their front yard. Law enforcement agencies tracked her to Mendoza’s Jesup mobile home, where after her rescue the officers found a shrine to Santa Muerte – “Saint Death” – decorated with her hair and blood in what was believed to be a prelude to her murder. Mendoza faces pending state charges for aggravated assault related to that incident.
Medina admitted that from about April to October 2020, in Glynn and Effingham counties, he charged foreign workers to obtain H-2A visas and then withheld their identification documents. Victoria, a naturalized U.S. citizen, admitted he conspired with Medina and allowed Medina to use his name to apply for the use of H-2A workers, and then transported those workers from housing to work for which Victoria was paid $600 per week.
The investigation into forced labor in agricultural communities, in south Georgia and beyond, continues through U.S.A. v. Patricio et al, in which 23 defendants are charged in the labor trafficking, visa fraud and money laundering conspiracy. The defendants are awaiting trial and are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. Two of those defendants are fugitives.
“These defendants are being held accountable for the horrors of human and labor trafficking that they inflicted upon their victims, in the name of profit,” said Special Agent in Charge Katrina Berger, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) operations in Georgia and Alabama. “Thanks to the great work done by our agents, along with our state, local and federal partners, this case was successfully investigated and prosecuted preventing more innocent people from being victimized.”
“Customs and Border Protection takes great pride in fostering collaboration with our partner government agencies to diligently combat human trafficking and forced labor as part of our overall duties and responsibilities in protecting and preserving our national security,” said Henry DeBlock III, Area Port Director for CBP Savannah.
“This sentencing sends a strong message: DSS pursues those who fraudulently use worker visas, like the H-2A, for personal gain, making sure that those who commit human trafficking face consequences for their criminal actions,” said Jessica Moore, chief of the criminal investigations division of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). “We are firmly committed to working to prevent situations where vulnerable individuals are exploited in human trafficking schemes such as this. DSS’ global presence and strong relationship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other law enforcement partners was essential in the pursuit of justice for these victims.”
“Mendoza, Medina and Victoria misused the H-2A program in order to enrich themselves at the expense of foreign workers and American employers,” said Mathew Broadhurst, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, Atlanta Region, U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division to vigorously pursue those who commit fraud involving foreign labor programs.”
“The United States abolished slavery and involuntary servitude over 156 years ago, yet these men engaged in the heinous crime of forced labor and chose to exploit their fellow human beings for profit,” said Philip Wislar, Acting Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The FBI is committed to working with our partners to purse justice on behalf of victims of human trafficking and prosecuting perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law.”
“This investigation is an excellent example of a partnership between federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies working together to bring down individuals involved in a human trafficking conspiracy,” said Tommy D. Coke, Inspector in Charge of the Atlanta Division. “The hard work and countless hours put forth by all has prevented so many victims from being further victimized by the defendants who have caused considerable emotional harm.”
The cases are being investigated as part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach.
Agencies investigating the cases include Homeland Security Investigations; Customs and Border Protection; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Fraud Detection and National Security; the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, and Wage and Hour Division; U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the FBI. The cases are being prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorney and Human Trafficking Coordinator Tania D. Groover, and Assistant U.S. Attorney and Criminal Division Deputy Chief E. Greg Gilluly Jr.
ATLANTA – U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland today released the Justice Department’s new National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking pursuant to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.
“Human trafficking is an insidious crime,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Traffickers exploit and endanger some of the most vulnerable members of our society and cause their victims unimaginable harm. The Justice Department’s new National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking will bring the full force of the Department to this fight.”
“Our team is proud to work alongside our many committed law enforcement and community partners – including federal and state law enforcement agencies, non-profit organizations, and community leaders – to combat the scourge of human trafficking,” said U.S Attorney Kurt R. Erskine. “We continue to draw on these critical resources to vigorously prosecute those who commit these crimes, as well as to mobilize resources to aid, support, and help trafficking victims in our district.”
Rooted in the foundational pillars and priorities of the interagency National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, which President Biden released on Dec. 3, 2021, the Justice Department’s National Strategy is expansive in scope. It aims to enhance the department’s capacity to prevent human trafficking; to prosecute human trafficking cases; and to support and protect human trafficking victims and survivors.
Among other things, the Justice Department’s multi-year strategy to combat all forms of human trafficking will:
Strengthen engagement, coordination and joint efforts to combat human trafficking by prosecutors in all 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and by federal law enforcement agents nationwide.
Establish federally-funded, locally-led anti-human trafficking task forces that support sustained state law enforcement leadership and comprehensive victim assistance.
Step up departmental efforts to end forced labor by increasing attention, resources and coordination in labor trafficking investigations and prosecutions.
Enhance initiatives to reduce vulnerability of American Indians and Alaska Natives to violent crime, including human trafficking, and to locate missing children.
Develop and implement new victim screening protocols to identify potential human trafficking victims during law enforcement operations and encourage victims to share important information.
Increase capacity to provide victim-centered assistance to trafficking survivors, including by supporting efforts to deliver financial restoration to victims.
Expand dissemination of federal human trafficking training, guidance and expertise.
Advance innovative demand-reduction strategies.
The department’s strategy will be implemented under the direction of the National Human Trafficking Coordinator designated by the Attorney General in accordance with the Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017.
If you believe that you or someone you know may be a victim of human trafficking, please contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or Text 233733.
To read the National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking click here.
Today, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra publicly announced the formation of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Task Force to Prevent Human Trafficking (the Task Force). The Task Force will facilitate implementation of the priority actions HHS has committed to in President Biden’s National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, as well as strengthen HHS’ human trafficking prevention and intervention efforts with a focus on partnerships, equity, and open data.
Secretary Becerra first announced the Task Force at a January 25th meeting of President Biden’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons – a cabinet-level entity of 20 federal agencies responsible for coordinating U.S. government-wide efforts to combat human trafficking. The Administration for Children and Families and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health will lead the Task Force at HHS, which will be made up of experts from across the Department.
“There is no place for human trafficking in our world. Our Task Force will work to ensure health and human services providers are adequately equipped to support survivors,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “On top of determining new ways to support survivors, our Task Force will work to elevate national awareness about human trafficking to encourage more people to come forward and help stop it. Together, government, community, and businesses can prevent human trafficking in neighborhoods across the country.”
Human trafficking disproportionally affects many of the communities HHS serves. These communities include—but are not limited to—youth and adults experiencing homelessness and domestic violence, persons in eldercare systems, unaccompanied children and refugees, Indigenous communities, individuals with a prior history of substance abuse and other populations that have been systemically marginalized. Part of the work of the Task Force will be to figure out how to better reach affected communities where they are.
“Gender, racial, and other forms of inequity are some of the major underlying factors that contribute to risks for human trafficking,” added Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel Levine. “Our unified public health response to human trafficking will strengthen our national understanding of the diverse manifestations of human trafficking and work towards the short- and long-term wellbeing of historically underserved communities.”
Together, with federal, state, local, and public-private partners, the Task Force will work to scale innovative models to prevent human trafficking – particularly in the high-need areas of housing, mental health and substance use, and economic mobility. In addition, the Task Force will integrate an equity lens into new public awareness strategies to better reach populations at disproportionate risk for human trafficking. Finally, the Task Force will partner with the research and business communities to analyze data on human trafficking and prevent human trafficking in healthcare supply chains.
“Each instance of human trafficking we learn about through the HHS National Human Trafficking Hotline or through local grant-receiving organizations represents an opportunity for us to make a pivotal connection,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Children and Families JooYeun Chang. “We need to look at multi-generational solutions to disrupt the cycles of trauma and strengthen resiliency at individual, family, and community levels.”
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday ordered several Cabinet departments to work together to combat human trafficking and crime on Native lands, where violent crime rates are more than double the national average.
Speaking at a White House summit on tribal nations, Biden signed an executive order tasking the Justice, Homeland Security and Interior departments with pursuing strategies to reduce crime. Biden also asked the departments to work to strengthen participation in Amber Alert programs and national training programs for federal agents, and appoint a liaison who can speak with family members and to advocates.
The administration also announced plans to pursue a 20-year ban on oil and gas drilling in Chaco Canyon, an ancient Native American heritage site in northwestern New Mexico.
“We have to continue to stand up for the dignity and sovereignty of tribal nations,” Biden said at the first tribal nations summit since 2016. The two-day summit was being held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected Indigenous peoples at disproportionate rates.
American Indians and Alaska Natives are more than twice as likely to be victims of a violent crime and Native American women are at least two times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted compared to other races, according to the Association on American Indian Affairs.
On the cultural front, the administration announced a long-sought action to protect Chaco Canyon, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage site northwest of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the Bureau of Land Management will begin to study the possible withdrawal for a period of 20 years from federal lands within a 10-mile (16-kilometer) radius of Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Such a move would bar new federal oil and gas leasing and development on those lands. Those lands will not be eligible for leasing while the study is underway, though past administrations had already opted to impose the buffer administratively.
Environmentalists and some tribes have complained that such a move is temporary and that permanent protections are needed. But it isn’t so simple; while some tribes have fought for protections, the Navajo Nation, which has more to lose by curbing oil and gas, has asked for a smaller radius around the site, an ancient center of Pueblo culture.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, introduced two bipartisan bills that would enhance our nation’s ability to combat the rise of human trafficking. The bills would make permanent the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Center for Countering Human Trafficking (CCHT) and increase coordination between DHS components and the Blue Campaign, a national public awareness effort designed to educate law enforcement and the public to recognize human trafficking.
“Human trafficking in Michigan and across the nation continues to threaten every community. We need to make sure our federal and local law enforcement agencies have the training and resources to recognize and stop these shocking crimes – which are tragically underreported,” said Senator Peters. “These commonsense, bipartisan bills will ensure that, with the help of the American people, our nation can work to disrupt and dismantle human trafficking organizations, and provide support and protection to their victims.”
“Human trafficking should not be happening in Ohio or our nation. The bipartisan Countering Human Trafficking Act and the bipartisan DHS Blue Campaign Enhancement Act advance a whole of government approach to give law enforcement the resources they need to combat it and hold those involved accountable for their actions,” said Senator Portman. “As founder and co-chair of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, I have led efforts in the Senate to combat human trafficking and I will continue to work to ensure that no more women or children become victims of this terrible crime.”
Millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including thousands in the United States. According to DHS, traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations. Based on calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the Polaris Project found that in 2019 there were at least 14,597 sex trafficking victims and survivors in the United States. However, the actual number of these crimes may be much larger because these crimes often go unreported. In addition, the Michigan Human Trafficking Commission says that an extremely high number of human trafficking cases involve the sexual exploitation of a child. Eradicating these heinous crimes will require stronger anti-trafficking policies and ensuring that law enforcement professionals and the public are able to recognize indicators of human trafficking.
The Countering Human Trafficking Act will make permanent the CHHT, which oversees DHS’s efforts to combat human trafficking and the importation of products that are made with forced labor. The Center also ensures the Department is leveraging and coordinating its capabilities and resources to fight back against traffickers. The bill would allow the CHHT to build out their permanent staff with Special Agents, criminal analysts, and others. It will also allow the Center to modernize their systems and operations to support worldwide investigations on human trafficking and forced labor in supply chains, and bolster efforts to protect human trafficking victims. Finally, the legislation will also expand and improve national public awareness and law enforcement training initiatives to boost efforts to counter trafficking.
The DHS Blue Campaign Enhancement Act requires the Director of the Blue Campaign to develop online, interactive training videos and other web-based training opportunities for federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement officers. These trainings will help to raise public awareness about the indicators of human trafficking and ensure law enforcement can respond quickly and effectivity.The bill also establishes a Blue Campaign Advisory Board in DHS, which will consult with the Director the Blue Campaign on the development of effective awareness tools for distribution to partners that will help them identify and prevent instances of human trafficking. The bill is a Senate companion to legislation introduced by U.S. Representatives Peter Meijer (R-MI) and Lou Correa (D-CA).
Acting United States Attorney Jan Sharp announced that Lauryn Besta, 22, of Omaha, Nebraska, was sentenced today in federal court in Omaha for conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor. Chief United States District Judge Robert F. Rossiter, Jr. sentenced Besta to 142 months’ imprisonment. There is no parole in the federal system. After her release from prison, Besta will begin a five-year term of supervised release.
An investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations and the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office determined that from January 2016 and continuing through January 2019, in the District of Nebraska and elsewhere, Besta (also known as “Lola”) and a co-defendant, Darien Brewer, conspired and agreed to recruit, transport, and entice four minor females, under the age of 18 years old, to engage in commercial sex. The victims were introduced into the lifestyle of prostitution through the use of drugs and alcohol provided by Besta and Brewer. Besta and Brewer often referred to the minors as “the Bunny Gang.”
Investigators determined that Besta and Brewer would instruct the minors how to advertise, solicit, and charge for commercial sex acts in the District of Nebraska and elsewhere. They obtained commercial sex customers for the minors by purchasing and posting advertisements on internet sites such as www.backpage.com. Sex customers responded to the advertisements via telephone and text message and commercial sex acts were coordinated to occur at various hotels, motels, and other locations. Besta and Brewer used vehicles and public highways to drive the minors to various hotels, motels, and other locations for commercial sex acts, including Omaha, Nebraska; Lincoln, Nebraska; Iowa; and Houston, Texas. The minors paid a portion or all of the payments received for commercial sex acts to Besta and Brewer.
On August 27, 2021, Chief Judge Rossiter sentenced Brewer to 180 months’ imprisonment and a five-year term of supervised release.
This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office.
ALBANY, NEW YORK – A grand jury yesterday returned a superseding indictment charging Christopher Thomas, age 38, of Colonie, New York, with crimes related to the sex trafficking of children and adults.
The announcement was made by Acting United States Attorney Antoinette T. Bacon, Janeen DiGuiseppi, Special Agent in Charge of the Albany Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and New York State Police Superintendent Kevin Bruen.
The indictment charges Thomas with conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of children, sex trafficking of a child, transportation of minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, conspiracy to transport an individual to engage in prostitution, and coercion and enticement.
Thomas is alleged to have recruited girls and women to engage in commercial sex at his direction and then provide him with the proceeds. Thomas is alleged to have used a website to advertise the girls and women for commercial sex in the Capital Region, Massachusetts, and elsewhere.
The charges in the superseding indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Thomas has been in custody since his arrest on May 12, 2020.
If convicted of all offenses, Thomas faces at least 10 years and up to life in prison. A defendant’s sentence is imposed by a judge based on the particular statute the defendant is charged with violating, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other factors.
This case is being investigated by the FBI Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Force, and the New York State Police Troop G Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, with assistance from the Colonie Police Department, Vermont State Police, Burlington, Vermont Police Department, Albany Police Department, Albany County Sheriff’s Office, Town of Bethlehem Police Department, Capital Region Crime Analysis Center, and the New York State Intelligence Center. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shira Hoffman and Katherine Kopita.
Human trafficking is a crime in which force, fraud or coercion is used to compel a person to perform labor, services or commercial sex. It affects all populations: adults, children, men, women, foreign nationals and U.S. citizens, and all economic classes.
In the videos, eight survivors relate their experiences being trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation, forced labor, and being turned into child soldiers. They discuss what they wish they had done differently and how others could have helped. Several of the survivors’ stories have a connection to the Defense Department.
For example, Kalei Grant tells of being purchased by military members in Hawaii.
“We would be driven to military bases and nearby bars where [our trafficker] would force us to look for the drunk military soldiers and proposition them. The transactions would happen everywhere — in barracks, in homes and apartments, on military bases in warehouses, in military personnel vehicles, in personal cars, and while service members were on and off duty,” she said.
In another story, Kumar, who prefers not to give his whole name, tells of being trafficked into forced labor by subcontractors in India who charged each potential worker exorbitant recruitment fees to obtain jobs with good pay. The subcontractors then used classic bait and switch techniques to force these food service workers into hard labor when they arrived in Afghanistan, which paid so little they could not get out of debt.