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Human Smuggling/Trafficking
01/11/2010

ICE participates in Human Trafficking Awareness Day in South Florida

Thousands estimated to be held as modern-day slaves in the US

MIAMI - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Homestead Police Department (HPD), the Miami Dade Police Department (MDPD), and the U.S. Attorney's Office Southern District of Florida (SDFL) participated in Monday's national Human Trafficking Awareness Day to inform members of the community about the horrors and the prevalence of human trafficking and how to report it to law enforcement.

"ICE is committed to working with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to inform our communities that this 21st century form of slavery exists in this day and age throughout the country and law enforcement is dedicated to rescuing victims and holding traffickers accountable," said Anthony Mangione, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Miami. "Because this heinous crime is extremely well-hidden, we need to help educate members of the public about human trafficking, and encourage them to keep alert for possible human trafficking victims."

On Jan. 11, as part of Human Trafficking Awareness Day, special agents and victim advocates of ICE's Office of Investigations in Miami along with officers and detectives of the HPD, MDPD, and the U.S. Attorney's Office SDFL held an informational forum presented to school staff and counselors, parents and middle and high school students that are part of a Miami Dade's Public School Program located at the Redland Housing in Homestead, Fla. Additionally, ICE special agents and HPD officers conducted outreach to farm and day laborers by giving out brochures and informational materials on human trafficking at labor drop-off and pick-up locations in downtown Homestead. Students also had the opportunity to participate in a leadership and rock climbing wall at the school. Councilman Elvis R. Maldonado is sponsoring and supporting this event on behalf of the City of Homestead.

Human trafficking is a tragic, serious cross-border crime, and ICE is the lead U.S. federal government agency responsible for investigating and dismantling human trafficking organizations. It is estimated that 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked around the world each year. These victims are trafficked into the commercial sex trade, and into forced-labor situations throughout the world. Many of these victims are lured from their homes with false promises of well-paying jobs; instead, they are forced or coerced into prostitution, domestic servitude, farm or factory labor, or other types of forced labor.

The greatest challenge in combating human trafficking is victim identification. Surprisingly, many people are unaware that this form of modern-day slavery occurs every day in the United States. Victims may end up in a foreign country; are often unable to speak the language, and have no one to advocate for them. Traffickers often take away the victims' travel and identity documents. They tell their victims that if they attempt to escape, their families back home will be either physically or financially harmed.

ICE is asking for the public's help to remain alert to recognize and identify victims of modern-day slavery who are in our midst. They are domestic servants, sweat-shop employees, sex workers and fruit pickers who were lured here by the promise of prosperity. Ultimately, they are forced to work without pay and are unable to leave their situation. ICE is committed to giving them the help they need to come forward and help us end human trafficking with vigorous enforcement and tough penalties. As a primary mission area, ICE has the overall goal of preventing human trafficking in the United States by prosecuting the traffickers, and rescuing and protecting victims.

In 2008, the South Florida Human Trafficking Task Force (SFHTTF) was created. The task force is housed in the ICE Office of the Special Agent in Charge Miami and consists of agents and officers of ICE, FBI, State Department-Diplomatic Security, Miami Dade Police Department, Homestead Police Department, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Office of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida. The SFHTTF investigates all instances and allegations of human trafficking in the South Florida region which includes cities as far south as Key West and as far north as Fort Pierce.

Additionally, the SFHTTF works closely with non-governmental and social service organizations in its human trafficking efforts. These organizations routinely forward information regarding potential victims and trafficking networks to the task force for investigation. The task force works with organizations to provide training to other law enforcement agencies and conduct outreach to other governmental agencies, such as foreign consulates, for the purpose of identifying potential victims that they may encounter at the local consulate offices.

The following are case examples of the SFHTTF:

  • In November 2008, ICE special agents conducted an enforcement operation into sex trafficking and rescued numerous trafficking victims who were forced into prostitution in several South Florida brothels. As a result of this investigation and successful prosecution, Sergio Gonzalez-Ramos, Raymunda Torres, Marcelo Berudo-Lopez, Arturo-Rojas-Gonzalez and Elodia Capilla-Diego pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of a minor and related crimes. They were sentenced between five and 13.3 years in federal prison.
  • In November 2008, the task force initiated an investigation of Fort Lauderdale resident David Pierre after agents and officers of the task force rescued a 14-year-old female victim who had been employed by an escort service operated by Pierre. Through its investigation, the task force discovered that Pierre was operating a prostitution ring in the South Florida area through Internet advertisements. In addition, ICE agents identified and rescued a second female trafficking victim during the course of their investigation. On June 9, Pierre was indicted by a federal grand jury for sex trafficking of minors. On Oct. 22, Pierre was sentenced to 120 months in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release.

Anyone who knows or suspects that someone is being forced to work against their will should contact the ICE tip line anonymously at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE. You can also view or download the video Public Service Announcement at www.ice.gov.