What Is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is a global crime that trades in people of all genders, ages and backgrounds and exploits them for profit. Human trafficking generally takes two forms: sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.

Human traffickers prey on people who are hoping for a better life, lack employment opportunities, have an unstable home life or have a history of sexual or physical abuse. Traffickers promise a high-paying job, a loving relationship or new and exciting opportunities and then use physical and psychological violence to control them.

A wide range of criminals, including individuals, family operations, small businesses, loose-knit decentralized criminal networks and international organized criminal operations, can be human traffickers. Often the traffickers and their victims share the same national, ethnic or cultural background, allowing the trafficker to better understand and exploit the vulnerabilities of their victims. Traffickers can be foreign nationals and U.S. citizens, males and females, family members, intimate partners, acquaintances and strangers.

Traffickers and Victims Under the Radar

Due to the complex nature of the crime, traffickers often operate under the radar, and those trafficked are not likely to identify as victims, often blaming themselves for their situation. This makes it more difficult to identify the crime because victims rarely report their situation. Often victims are misidentified and treated as criminals or undocumented migrants. In some cases, they are hidden behind doors as domestic help in a home. In other cases, victims live in plain sight and interact with people daily, yet they experience commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor under extreme circumstances in public settings such as exotic dance clubs, factories or restaurants and are not identified due to a lack of identification training and awareness.

Forced Labor, Domestic Servitude

Role of ICE

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a leader in the global fight against human trafficking, proactively identifying, disrupting and dismantling cross-border human trafficking organizations and minimizing the risk they pose to national security and public safety. Through Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), a victim-centered approach is used placing equal value on the identification and stabilization of victims and on the deterrence, investigation and prosecution of traffickers.

HSI

HSI plays an integral role in combatting human trafficking by working with its law enforcement partners to deter, disrupt and dismantle the criminal network engaged in trafficking activities. It accomplishes this mission by making full use of its authorities and expertise, seizing assets and eliminating profit incentives, and working in partnership with non-governmental organizations to protect and assist victims and bring traffickers to justice.

Special agents work closely with the HSI Victim Assistance Program (VAP), a central piece of HSI’s victim-centered approach to investigations into crimes of victimization and exploitation. The VAP responds to victim issues in a wide range of federal crimes, including human trafficking. The VAP provides a critical resource to HSI investigations and criminal prosecutions by ensuring that victims have access to the rights and services to which they are entitled by law, as well as the assistance they need so that they can participate actively and fully in the criminal justice system process.

ERO

ERO plays a vital role in countering human trafficking because of the noncitizen population with whom they interact. This population could have been victimized prior to ERO engagement or anytime during their immigration status adjudication. ERO identifies, screens and responds to potential victims and traffickers within its detention centers. ERO personnel work closely with ICE Intelligence and HSI for review and potential investigation.


ICE plays a critical role in supporting the DHS Center for Countering Human Trafficking (CCHT) mission to advance counter human trafficking law enforcement operations, protect victims and enhance prevention efforts by aligning DHS’ capabilities and expertise. The CCHT is the first unified, intercomponent coordination center for countering human trafficking and the importation of goods produced with forced labor. It is a DHS-wide effort comprised of 16 supporting offices and components, led by ICE HSI. Additionally, ERO’s Custody Programs Division (CPD) and the ICE ERO National Fugitive Operations Program (NFOP) are designated liaison components to the CCHT.

Human Trafficking - A Global Problem

How You Can Help

Nationwide, ICE participates in a variety of human trafficking awareness events in January and throughout the year to educate medical professionals, key industries and the general public to identify indicators of trafficking activities. The recognition of human trafficking by others can save a victim’s life and help the investigation and prosecution of traffickers.

Select Cases

Listen to the audiograms and read to learn more about each case:

Human Smuggling & Trafficking

Partners

Task Forces: HSI participates in human trafficking task forces nationwide, alongside other federal, tribal, state and local law enforcement. HSI also works with other investigative authorities, such as code inspectors, labor officials and child welfare investigators who are likely to come across trafficking in the course of their work. Essential partners in the task force effort are victim services organizations who provide case management and social services that help to stabilize victims. Additionally, HSI participates in the federal Anti-Trafficking Coordination Teams along with the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to coordinate proactively and plan significant federal human trafficking investigations and prosecutions.

Victim Service Providers and Community Based Organizations: Victim service providers offer comprehensive and culturally appropriate services to victims, including shelter, food, clothing, medical and mental health care, job training and employment placement, legal counsel, interpretation and more depending on the unique needs of the victim. HSI also works closely with community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, workers’ rights groups, migrant and refugee organizations and others to ensure the community is informed of trafficking indicators to provide tips and referrals for investigations.

Federal Government: Committed to a whole of government approach, multiple federal agencies are engaged in human trafficking prevention, prosecution and protection efforts. Specific to enforcement, HSI works closely with prosecutors at the DOJ and U.S. Attorney’s Offices as well as investigators at the FBI and the DOL.

Foreign Law Enforcement: The success of HSI's international human trafficking operations is dependent on support from foreign law enforcement partners. Some trafficking investigations begun in the United States will link to individuals and networks in other countries, oftentimes where the victims were originally recruited. HSI bolsters these relationships with human trafficking training to foreign law enforcement partners through the International Law Enforcement Academies worldwide.

Blue Campaign: The Blue Campaign, which is part of the CCHT, raises public awareness about human trafficking, leveraging partnerships to educate the public to recognize human trafficking and report suspected instances. The Blue Campaign also offers training to law enforcement and others to increase detection and investigation of human trafficking, and to protect victims and bring suspected traffickers to justice. To view all available Blue Campaign resources, please visit their resources page.

Resources

  • DHS Blue Campaign: A variety of human trafficking awareness materials to help educate the public to watch out for signs and indicators of trafficking and report suspected trafficking to law enforcement. Tailored resources for law enforcement are available here.
  • ICE Continued Presence Program: Continued Presence (CP) is a temporary immigration designation provided to individuals identified by law enforcement as trafficking victims who may be potential witnesses. CP allows trafficking victims to lawfully remain in the U.S. temporarily and work during the investigation into the human trafficking-related crimes committed against them and during any civil action under 18 U.S.C. § 1595 filed by the victims against their traffickers. CP not only authorizes the victim to remain in the United States for two years and is renewable but also provides a free work permit and eligibility for other federal benefits and services. ICE manages the Continued Presence Program and the CCHT processes all Continued Presence (CP) applications for federal, state and local law enforcement nationwide.
  • Continued Presence Resource Guide: The CP Resource Guide assists law enforcement agencies, civil attorneys, service providers, human trafficking victims, and survivors, and others better understand this important tool used as part of a victim-centered approach to combat human trafficking.
  • Brochure | Continued Presence: Law enforcement may request CP for victims of human trafficking who are potential witnesses to remain in the U.S. temporarily with work authorization during the ongoing investigation into the human trafficking crimes committed against them.
  • Continued Presence Webinars for Law Enforcement: The CCHT hosts quarterly webinars to educate law enforcement on the CP program and processes.
  • Brochure | Information for Victims of Human Trafficking: This brochure provides information to help understand your rights under federal law as a victim of human trafficking in the United States as well as assistance that is available throughout the investigation and beyond.
  • Brochure | Information for Victims of Crime: This brochure provides information to help deal with the problems and questions that often arise during a federal investigation. It describes a victim’s rights under federal law and the services available.
  • U.S. Immigration Benefits for Noncitizen Crime Victims: This infographic provides information on the available immigration relief options for noncitizen crime victims and their respective eligibility requirements.
  • T Visa Resource Guide for law enforcement and certifying agencies: The T Visa Resource Guide provides information to law enforcement and other certifying agencies on how to support victims of human trafficking while they investigate and prosecute these crimes.

Most Wanted

Find information on ICE's most wanted human trafficking fugitives. Please refer any information to law enforcement officials and do not attempt to apprehend any subject.

Updated: 07/12/2022