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Saturday, June 19, 2004

L.A. Daily News - - The Slave Market is Booming in America

L.A. Daily News - News
Article Published: Friday, June 18, 2004 - 7:51:17 PM PST

Trafficking, smuggling up in region
Moving of humans lucrative
By Troy Anderson
Staff Writer

The Los Angeles region has become a hub for human smugglers and traffickers and federal officials fighting them say their tactics are becoming increasingly violent.

Arrests are up as authorities have uncovered more cases in the thriving business, but they acknowledge that this often-unseen crime is rampant in the metropolitan area and that many former drug smugglers are now trafficking in the more lucrative "human slavery" market.

"The fees for this activity are increasing every year and it is getting increasingly more dangerous," said Daren Dowell, the supervising special agent in the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement Human Trafficking Unit in Los Angeles.

"It seems that some of the criminal element is looking at the possibility that you can make a lot more money in human trafficking than with drugs, so why not get into it?"

Officials are also concerned that the smuggling and trafficking pipelines could be exploited by terrorist or extremist organizations seeking to enter the United States undetected.

"It is a very big problem," said Dowell, who oversaw the arrests of seven alleged human smugglers in May in Canoga Park, where 70 illegal immigrants were found barefoot inside a padlocked 900-square-foot "drop house" that officials said was crawling with cockroaches.

The detainees were being held in federal facilities throughout Southern California, pending deportation hearings for each.

A similar drop house was discovered in April in Watts, where 110 people from Mexico, Ecuador and Guatemala were crammed inside a "rancid" dwelling.

Since 2001, the U.S. Justice Department has charged 140 human traffickers nationwide, a threefold increase over the previous three years, and secured convictions of 93 defendants, nearly twice the number of three years ago. Over the same period, the Justice Department has initiated 283 trafficking investigations, nearly triple the number opened in the previous three years.

An estimated 800,000 to 900,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year in an enterprise that generates an estimated $9.5 billion in profits for criminal organizations worldwide. In many cases, these profits fuel trafficking in drugs, weapons or other contraband, or the funds are laundered and invested in legitimate business enterprises.

Typically, an undocumented alien from Mexico or other Central and South American nations pays a "coyote" $1,500 to $6,000 to be brought across the U.S.-Mexico border. Once in the United States, the individual is lodged in a drop house, often in deplorable conditions. After the ransom is paid, the alien is taken to a nearby airport, and given a one-way ticket to a U.S. destination with a host of fake identification.

In April, two men were convicted of human smuggling in connection with the discovery of 19 Chinese nationals inside a shipping container at the Port of Los Angeles in February. The 19 were charged $40,000 apiece for the trip.

Officials point out there is a difference between "human smuggling" and "human trafficking," which both encompass the illicit movement of people across or within national borders. Trafficking refers to severe forms involving force, fraud or coercion, and occurs for the purpose of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.

"Our own estimates are that 18,000 to 20,000 men, women and children are trafficked across the United States borders as slaves or into slavery," said John Miller, the director of the U.S. State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. "Sex tourism is the major driving force behind trafficking."

Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas put the number at 50,000, and said Los Angeles has become one of the largest points of transit for trafficked women in the world, noting that the CIA reports that more than 10,000 are trafficked into Los Angeles every year. Earlier this year, Cardenas called for the creation of a task force to target human trafficking, brothels and child prostitution.

"It's disgusting that even now in the 21st century, women and children are being exploited in the worst ways imaginable," Cardenas said. "I'm targeting human trafficking involving forced prostitution because this is the most horrifying and scarring of human trafficking crimes. To rape and sexually abuse women and children for the purpose of feeding ambitious, criminal monsters surpasses the darkest definition of evil."

Since last July, ICE has arrested more than 450 child predators and criminal alien sex offenders in the Los Angeles area as part of Operation Predator, a national initiative to protect children from alien smugglers, human traffickers, child-sex tourists, pornographers and prostitution rings.

ICE officials say the recent increase in human smuggling activity in the Los Angeles area likely stems from heightened enforcement efforts in Arizona.


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