Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe: U.S. Helsinki Commission
Human Trafficking and Transnational Organized Crime: Assessing Trends and
Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division,
U.S. Department of Justice
Deputy Representative to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, New York
Pro Bono Counsel,
The Freedom Network USA
The Hearing Was Held From 10:00 To 11:30 in Room Number B-318 Rayburn House
Office Building, Washington, D.C., Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), CSCE, Moderating
Thursday, November 3rd, 2011
REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS SMITH (R-NJ): The commission will come to order, and good
morning to everybody. Thank you for being here for this hearing on the
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe – human trafficking and
transnational organized crime, assessing trends and combat strategies. This
morning we’ll be talking about human trafficking, as we have done so often in
the past on this commission. In 1998, some of you may know, I introduced the
Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and not long after that chaired this
commission’s first hearing on human trafficking.
At that time, the idea that human trafficking even existed was – and was
widespread – was met with a wall of skepticism and opposition. People, whether
in government or not, thought the bold new strategy of the TVPA, although we
had a different name for it then – we finally added that name near the end of
the process – but they thought that sheltering, asylum and other protections
for victims, long jail sentence and asset confiscation for the traffickers, and
tough sanctions for governments that fail to meet minimum standards, were
merely a solution in search of a problem.
Today, few would deny that the scourge of human trafficking, though often
hidden, is in fact very widespread. Back in the 1990s, the term “trafficking”
was applied almost exclusively to illicit drugs or weapons. Reports of
vulnerable persons, especially woman and children, being reduced to objects for
sale were met with surprise, incredulity or indifference. It took two years to
educate people, especially in the U.S. House and Senate, to muster the – and to
muster the votes for passage of the legislation.
Today as we explore the links between transnational organized crime and
trafficking, I’d like to start by pointing out that there is a new frontier in
the fight against human trafficking. Years ago human traffickers were not
highly organized and were not typically connected to gangs. They were involved
in other kinds of organized crime. This is less and less true today, and we
need to consider how methods of fighting human trafficking need to adapt.
We know that human trafficking, or modern-day slavery, is the third-most
lucrative criminal activity in the world. According to the International Labor
Organization, ILO, human traffickers made profits in excess of $31 billion a
year. And so it is not surprising that more and more organized criminal groups
are engaging in modern-day slavery. And, of course, while drug and arms
traffickers have a commodity that can be sold only once, human traffickers can
purchase a slave and continually exploit that individual until he makes his
money back and then some. And obviously, it is very, very lucrative.
This is a complex subject. It is marked by the growing ingenuity of organized
criminal groups, the difficulty of knowing what or who passes over increasingly
porous borders, and the gangs’ use of modern technologies. All this has
obscured the activities of many syndicates, and made learning about fighting
their activities very difficult. Yet, it is not impossible and simply has to
be done, because so many vulnerable people – so many lives are at stake.
I’d like to conclude with one very important point: the premise that must
shape how we approach the fight against transnational organized crime as it
diversifies its operations into human trafficking. Human beings are the most –
are more important than drugs and guns, of course. Our allocation of effort
and resources which investigate, and our prosecutorial strategies, need to
reflect this. This needs to be the highest possible priority.
Today we are joined by a panel of experts on transnational organized crime and
human trafficking who will shed light on current patterns and countermeasures.
Their combined expertise should paint a clear picture of organized crime’s
involvement in human trafficking, and what can be done to help to stop it.
With us today is Mr. Greg Andres, the current deputy assistant attorney general
in the crime division, where he supervises the organized crime section at the
Department of Justice. Mr. Andres comes to us with over a decade of experience
working on organized crime issues. We will then be joined by Mr. Piero
Bonadeo, deputy representative for the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in New
York. Mr. Bonadeo’s testimony will bring the UNODC’s years of experience in
combating transnational organized crime.
And finally, we will have Ms. Martina Vandenberg, a seasoned attorney with
years of experience combating trafficking in persons as well as in broader
human rights context of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and the Russian
Federation and Uzbekistan – all of which have significant human trafficking
histories and problems and are of great interest to our commission.
Mr. Greg Andres, I would like to now turn this over to you for your comments.
GREG ANDRES: Thank you. Thank you, Chairman Smith. Thank you for inviting me
to speak with you this morning about the threat posed by human trafficking and
transnational organized crime, the efforts of the Department of Justice is
taking to address those threats, and the steps that Congress can take that will
assist us in those efforts.
The fight against transnational organized crime is one of the highest
enforcement priorities of the Department of Justice. Together with the United
States Attorneys’ Office and our many partners in law enforcement, the Criminal
Division investigates and prosecutes cases involving transnational organized
crime all over the country, indeed, all over the world.
The threats posed by these groups are significant and growing.
REP. SMITH: Mr. Anders, if you could just suspend for one – and I apologize
for the rudeness of the intervention – but would – there’s a markup in the
Foreign Affairs Committee that I must be at – two bills are going to be voted
on right now. Thankfully, Senator Mark Rubio is here and will take the chair.
And when you conclude his (sic) statement, he will give his statement. And I
do thank you for your – for your understanding.
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): Thank you, Chairman.
SEN. RUBIO: Welcome. I don’t get to chair a lot of things around here, so –
people continue. Thank you.
MR. ANDRES: Good morning, Commissioner Rubio.
In recognition of the issues with respect to transnational organized crime, in
July the administration released its strategy to combat transnational organized
crime, which sets forth a whole-of-government response to the threat. At the
Department of Justice, we are committed to the fight against transnational
organized crime and human trafficking, and we have enjoyed certain successes to
date as to both.
In the area of human trafficking, the department last month secured the
racketeering convictions of two brothers who ran a human trafficking scheme.
That scheme involved smuggling young Ukrainian immigrants into the United
States and forcing them to work without pay through threats and assault, sexual
abuse and debt-bondage. Roughly six months earlier, in May of this year in a
separate case, a Uzbek national was sentenced to 12 years in prison after he
pled guilty to racketeering conspiracy, which charged a scheme to recruit and
exploit dozens of workers from Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines
and elsewhere, and force those individuals to work in hospitality jobs in at
least 14 states through threats of deportation and financial penalties.
Many of our human trafficking cases involve loosely-affiliated networks of
individuals engaged in the exploitation of human trafficking victims. These
criminals tend to utilize smuggling pipelines and money-laundering conduits
operated by other criminal groups, and whose services the traffickers procure
for their own purposes. On occasion, human traffickers themselves belong to a
larger organized crime group or enterprise. In some cases, criminals may
operate transnationally, recruiting victims overseas with false promises – good
jobs in the United States – and threatening retaliation against their overseas
families if they try to escape once they realize their true predicament.
To the extent that these networks or groups are committing portions of their
crimes abroad, our investigations and prosecutions of these organizations and
crimes must overcome significant obstacles. At a minimum, pursing an
investigation abroad is often time-consuming and delays can be significant.
These delays can undermine our investigations. Tracking down criminals abroad
often requires the cooperation of foreign law enforcement agencies.
Furthermore, even if we locate our targets, many of the investigative tools for
gathering evidence are not available in the international context. In many
countries we cannot employ Title III-type wiretaps against perpetrators, or
secure routine surveillance. Nor can we, in most cases, send an undercover
agent to gather incriminating statements. Sometimes the country’s law
enforcement agencies may not have the level of training or the technology to
implement the necessary investigative steps, even if they were authorized to do
Arresting lower-level members of the organization and persuading them to
cooperate against higher-level bosses is also extremely difficult, and may
require the approval and cooperation of foreign authorities. Finally, many
countries have laws which ban the extradition of their own citizens to foreign
countries for prosecution. There are important steps that we can take to
better address extraterritorial threats and the increasing global reach of
transnational criminal organizations.
The Department of Justice, together with our partners, have developed a package
of legislative proposals to ensure that federal laws keep us – keep us up with
the rapid evolution of organized criminal activity.
We need to change our existing money laundering, asset forfeiture, narcotics
and racketeering laws. Additional proposals recognize that an increasingly
global law enforcement environment, witness security and the protection of
foreign witnesses must also be available. This last provision may be of
particular help in situations where a foreign government is helping us to
prosecute an international human trafficking ring, but is unable to protect its
I’m happy to discuss these proposals and to answer any questions. Thank you
SEN. RUBIO: Thank you. Thank you very much. And I’ll couch my question in
the form of the opening statement.
First – to thank you for being here, and all those who are here to testify and
be a part of this hearing on this important issue. I’m grateful to the
chairman and the co-chairman for allowing us to hold these hearings and – on
what I think is a shocking issue that I was not fully aware of before I got
here – although I’d heard about it. And I think many Americans are unaware of
the extent to which this issue impacts the – (audio break) – country in the
world that – we tend to think of slavery as something that happened 150 years
ago or 200 years ago or in other places. But we don’t realize that even here,
today, in the United States, there are – (audio break) – that are being held
against their will.
Obviously, we will talk a little bit about sexual exploitation, but there’s
also all kinds of other elements to this including, you know, forced labor and
domestic servitude. And we’ve seen those stories and the – and the – kind of
the parameters that are pretty broad in terms of what qualifies as human
slavery that exist to this day. I appreciate the work that you guys do on
these issues. This is a cutting-edge issue that I think we have an opportunity
to create awareness on, because – and I think in our questions we’ll get to
some of that. I think – (audio break) – awareness of the existence of this
will help us identify domestic victims.
And I think internationally, our country has taken the lead in terms of the
role we’ve played in classifying countries to compliance, and the tier system
has taken the lead in terms of calling attention to this human rights issue.
And one of the things that always adds to our nation is when we are strong
spokespersons on behalf of human rights all over the world. And I can think of
no issue that has a higher priority – or should have a higher – (audio break) –
than the issue of trafficking – (audio break) – and human slavery.
So with that, let me – a couple questions that I have. I think the first is –
you talked a little bit about, you know, the – obviously the Department of
Justice has a long history of prosecuting organized crime cases. This human
trafficking element is kind of a new – is a relatively new component of how we
are approaching these organized crime organizations. How has that forced you
to – and I think you talked about it a little bit in your statement – but how
has that forced you to alter how you – how you strategize with regard to
interacting with these – with these groups? I mean, does it – does it – what
new dynamics does it present from the traditional activities that organized
crime has largely been linked to – in trafficking in drugs, et cetera.
And second of all, you know, how – what – is the law caught up with the
realities of what it takes to prosecute, whether it’s how hard it is to get
witnesses or reliable information, those sorts of things? I mean, I guess my –
the basic question I have is: This is kind of a new problem that you’re facing
as you confront these organized crime operations. And organized crime itself
has changed as well. Are our laws up to date with the 21st-century realities
of prosecuting organized crime – in particular when it comes to the trafficking
MR. ANDRES: Thank you, Commissioner Rubio. One thing that’s certainly clear
about organized crime – and organized crime, even traditional Cosa Nostra
domestic organized crime organizations have traditionally evolved, rather
significantly, over the last decades. The abiding principle of organized crime
groups is they exist for the purpose of making money – period.
And the fact that human trafficking is an opportunity to generate additional
revenues certainly makes it alluring to organized crime groups, both in – both
here in the United States and internationally. So even as we’ve seen when
we’ve prosecuted domestically the mob, we’ve seen they’ve changed from tactics
like murder and extortion to now being involved in white-collar crimes or Wall
Street. So we’re certainly used to the changing nature of organized crime, and
the fact that it adapts as we adapt our law enforcement strategies.
There is an international component here. It’s not the only component, but
there is an international component here. And our laws do need to be updated
to address those international concerns. When you talk about investigating
cases internationally, you have to start with cooperation by foreign
governments. That’s essential. In some of these countries where there is
trafficking and organized crime influence, we don’t always have the cooperation
of those governments. There’s corruption in many of those places, and so there
are difficulties with respect to that issue.
On the legislative front, and briefly, we need to update our racketeering laws
so that international organized crime groups that are operating abroad and
don’t have as many touches – physical touches to the United States, but that
are affecting the United States – that we can prosecute those groups. We need
to update our money laundering laws so that we can attack not only the
organizations but also their money and their use of the United States financial
system to launder their money. We need to update our witness protection
provisions, which allow us to secure witnesses who may be involved in – who may
be involved in prosecutions abroad and that are helping foreign governments
convict and prosecute these enterprises abroad. So we do need to update our
Let me just finish by saying, we have had successes and we have been
concentrating on this issue. I think the administration’s strategy on
transnational organized crime is another effort to highlight the problem of
human trafficking. But you should be confident that the prosecutors in the
Department of Justice, primarily in the Civil Rights Division, have taken an
active role in prosecuting these cases.
And if I could just give you one example as it relates to Mexico. Since 2009,
our prosecutors have been working – along with the agents in the FBI and ICE –
have been working collaboratively with Mexican law enforcement officials on
arrests, convictions both here in the United States and Mexico. We’ve helped
to rescue victims as part of this bilateral cooperation; reunify U.S. victims
with their families, returning them from Mexico.
We’ve had success with prosecutions here in the United States, both in Atlanta
– in the United States versus Ruggiero – and also in Miami in United States
versus Cortez-Castro (ph). So we do have working relationships with foreign
governments. That is a vital part of this strategy because so much of the
evidence, as it related to international organized crime, exists abroad.
SEN. RUBIO: In terms of the witnesses, the victims, is the current structure
and nature of our immigration system make it easier for these crimes to happen?
In essence that – well, how is the existing immigration structure, complicated
visa process, what have you, the existing lack thereof or existence of a – of
a, you know, of a – for lack of a better term, you know, the guest-worker
It’s not really a guest-worker program but that’s how it really functions as.
The way our system, our visa program, is currently structured today, does it
make it – does it make it harder to prosecute these cases? And more
importantly, does it actually have the – have the traffickers actually figured
out how to use the system to their benefit?
MR. ANDRES: I think the latter is important here, that is, traffickers have
used that to exploit the system and to lure people, basically, here to the
United States. So through use of the Internet or other means to publicize
this, those who are interested in committing the crime of human trafficking –
SEN. RUBIO: Explain to me briefly how they use the system as it’s currently
structured today. How do they use the current visa system to get people in the
country and then kind of trap them here, right?
MR. ANDRES: Sure, they lure them here with – under the guise of getting a
guest-worker visa or some other type visa that they may apply for. And once
they get here, they then exploit those individuals. Obviously, a lot of the
human trafficking problem preys on the vulnerability of people here in the
United States, whether it’s a vulnerability because they’re not from the United
States – they don’t have families and relatives here. They don’t know the
system; they don’t know the laws.
So traffickers are able to lure them here to the United States, and then
basically enslave them to do a variety of different things, whether it’s
involved in the sex trade or it’s involved as laborers. They basically lure
them here and then entrap them once they have them here and are able to control
SEN. RUBIO: Their visas are linked to a specific employer, right? Basically
that – whoever it is they brought them in to work for?
MR. ANDRES: I believe that’s true. But I don’t know that specifically. But we
certainly could look into that, Senator, and get back to you as to the – how
that – (inaudible) –
SEN. RUBIO: Now, in terms of once you find a victim, or a witness, or both,
how hard is it to get them to cooperate if – for example depending on, you
know, their status in the country, their fear of family abroad, and what kind
of measures have you looked at? Because one of the things I’ve read about is
once you identify a victim, the victim is probably very insecure about their
own status, their own ability – you know, kind of where they stand on this
whole thing and where it’s going to lead them.
What’s your sense of how hard has it been to get victims to become witnesses,
how – and to become reliable witnesses and to – cooperative ones as a result of
two things – number one is their status or their fear and number two is maybe
their family abroad?
MR. ANDRES: So, let me say two things: One, one distinction with respect to
dealing with victims in human trafficking cases are – they certainly have
different status; that is, having gone through the ordeal of being a victim in
those cases, there are additional challenges that we have to deal with. I
think our law enforcement partners in the FBI and ICE and other agencies have
developed an expertise in dealing with those victims.
As for cooperating, again, that’s not new to us. That’s not a new struggle for
people who’ve been involved in prosecuting organized crime cases. Obviously
when we’ve done it domestically, whether it’s an MS-13 gang or the Gambino
family, there are always individuals who are afraid of retaliation by those
organized crime groups. That’s why things like the witness protection program
have been a vital part of our fight against organized crime, and there is a new
– there is a new proposal that will extend that internationally. So we can use
some of the tools that we already have and have been using to fight organized
crime in the context of human trafficking, to provide a safe and secure
location for people so that they can have the confidence to go into court and
testify against those involved in these crimes.
SEN. RUBIO: I think my last question is, with regards to the groups that are
actually conducting this, obviously we – the transnational – the big groups
with the – you know, the brand names, the – are the ones we know a lot about.
But there’s some emerging evidence of some smaller scale groups, for lack of a
better term, you know, mom-and-pop, family-run operations that are a handful of
family – I mean, I’ve read anecdotally; maybe I’m wrong – but I’ve read
anecdotally there’s a number of smaller scale operations where it’s really
three or four people.
How – do they present a different challenge in prosecuting and identifying,
number one? And number two is, you know, is there a specific kind of
trafficking that they’re more involved in than, say, the bigger transnational
MR. ANDRES: There is no question that there is a change in organized crime
both domestically and internationally, that there are emerging groups, that
there are smaller groups. They don’t necessarily have household names.
Luckily under our racketeering laws, you don’t have to have a name or be a
recognized group to be charged under racketeering because we can charge you
with being an association in fact. So, if there are a group of individuals,
even if it’s a family organization or a family group, we can charge them
together as an enterprise. Some of the legislative proposals that we have add
state law crimes as slavery and other related human trafficking offenses as
RICO predicates. So we’re able to attack them with our racketeering laws.
So the updates in the law will address that and, again, I’m not sure that the
challenge – there are some different challenges, but to the extent that we can
use our racketeering laws, that’s helpful and, again, to – we have had some
success in doing that. Our civil rights prosecutors have been working with our
organized crime prosecutors to bring RICO cases. There was recently a series
of brothers who were charged in Philadelphia with importing victims, and we
were able to charge what was basically a family-run operation with importing
victims for the purposes of human trafficking.
So, again, we do need to update our laws, but some of the past strategies that
we’ve used for organized crime, we’re able to adapt those, together with the
new legislation, that will be a – we believe we’ll be able to be successful in
prosecuting these groups.
SEN. RUBIO: Thank you very much for your time today and your testimony. We
appreciate it. Thank you.
MR. ANDRES: Thank you.
SEN. RUBIO: I guess our next witness is a Mr. Piero Bonadeo.
How are you? Give you a few minutes to set up.
SEN. RUBIO: Thank you for coming today.
PIERO BONADEO: Thank you. Thank you for inviting the UNODC and for allowing
us to bring some international perspective to this important discussions.
On behalf of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, a sincere thanks to
the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe for inviting me to speak.
The cooperation spirit of the commission as well as the one of the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe has often supported the United Nation(s)
Office on Drugs and Crime and the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight
Human trafficking is a truly global phenomenon and a crime which affects nearly
every part of the world, whether as a source, transit or destination country.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Human Trafficking
Report, released in 2009, victims from at least 127 countries have been
identified, and this is estimated that the more than 2.4 million people are
being exploited by criminals at any given time.
More than a decade after the adoption of the protocol to prevent, suppress and
punish trafficking in person(s), especially women and children, supplementing
the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, the
Palermo Convention, the largest majority of countries have criminalized most
form(s) of human trafficking in their legislation. Nevertheless, the use of
such laws to prosecute and convict traffickers remains limited. In 2009
“Global Report on Trafficking Person(s),” for instance, two out of every five
countries covered in the report had never recorded a single conviction for
human trafficking offenses.
The demand of trafficking victims, especially those related to sexual
exploitation, remains high, particularly in Europe. According to the United
Nation Office on Drugs and Crime Organized Crime Threat Assessment, the
majority of the victims detected in Europe come from the Balkans or – and the
former Soviet Union, including countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine,
the Russian Federation and the Republic of Moldova.
With regard to victims originating in South America, mostly from Brazil, there
are beings – they are being sent to destinations such as Spain, Italy,
Portugal, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. African
victims are sourced mainly in West Africa although North African victims seems
to be increasing. Finally, Asian victims are mainly originating in Thailand;
mostly recently Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian victims are also increasing.
Traffickers remain using deception and coercion as the main instrument to
recruit victims. As recent trend, women seems notably only involved in
recruiting other women, but also playing the role of guardians in the countries
of destination of victims. Another crime is that, in the case of Europe, the
perpetrators are frequently not nationals of the country where they operate,
but often national of the same countries as their victims.
Distinguished commissioner, cooperation is fundamental to combat the
exploitation of women, children and men by human traffickers. (Inaudible) –
with the outcome of our own efforts to gather information from member states,
trafficking in persons for forced labor is the second most reported form of
exploitation. But we share with all you – all of you a concern that this form
of trafficking is less frequently detected and reported than trafficking in
persons for sexual exploitation. Labor traffic is – just until recently was
started to be taken into consideration by the world community. Prosecution and
criminalization of this particular type of trafficking also needs to be set in
UNODC is helping to shine a powerful light on this crime. Working with others,
in particular the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, we are
developing clear strategies to meet government and civil society concerns. In
doing so, UNODC brings a unique criminal justice approach. As the guardian of
the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, we have
ready-made legal framework for international cooperation and the prevention of
human trafficking. Thanks to the convention, police no longer have to stop at
frontiers while criminal crosses them frequently.
We should also not forget how human trafficking is related to instability.
When social and political upheaval exists, as in North Africa at present, our
work is even more important in such turbulent and disordered regions.
Trafficking in human beings is one of the most lucrative forms of organized
crime, estimated to generate 32 billion U.S. dollars in gross proceeds each
year. Criminal assets arising from this grave violation of human rights and
fundamental freedoms may be invested in legitimate and criminal activities,
challenging economic security and fueling corruption and undermining the rule
In a bid to answer these questions, UNODC has developed a database of human
trafficking case law to provide – to provide immediate public access to
officially documented instances of this crime. The database contains detail –
details of the nationalities of victims and perpetrators, trafficking routes,
verdicts and other information related to prosecuted cases around the world.
As such, it provides not only statistics on the number – (inaudible) – the
number of prosecutions and convictions, but also the real-life stories of
trafficked person(s) as documented in the courts.
A little over a year ago the General Assembly passed by consensus the United
Nation – the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in
Persons; promoted universal ratification of the United Nations Convention
against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and
Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, as well as other
relevant international instruments that address trafficking in person(s) and
reinforce the implementation of existing instruments against trafficking in
persons and building on the relevant subregional, regional and cross-regional
mechanisms and initiative(s).
An important operationalization of the global plan of action and another
mechanism promoting the right to an effective remedy for victims of trafficking
is the United Nation Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in
Persons, Especially Women and Children, launched last November in New York.
The fund, managed by UNODC, provides humanitarian, legal and financial aid to
victims of trafficking in persons through established channels of assistance,
such as governments, nongovernmental organization(s) and international
I would like to conclude my statement, which is a little bit long at – I would
like to conclude the statement by thanking the U.S. government in supporting
not only the actions of the United Nation(s) Office of Drugs and Crime, but the
international community at large. We have an excellent cooperation with the
office of the Ambassador Louis C. de Baca, especially on human trafficking.
SEN. RUBIO: Thank you for your testimony, and I actually read it before today
as well. So –
MR. BONADEO: OK.
SEN. RUBIO: Thanks for the audience and for repeating it to me.
A few quick questions just on the role of the United States: What role does –
how big a role does the United States play with the office, in particular with
your operation? I mean, is it – in terms of the funding and personnel and et
cetera, I mean – how would you characterize the U.S.’s role today, and how
important is it?
MR. BONADEO: Well, in general, the U.S. government is one of the largest
contributor to UNODC. Of course, it’s contributing to support, implement
projects that are addressing transnational organized crime in general; so I
cannot tell you now how much of this money is going to projects related to
Of course, the fact that there is a trust fund now. There is not – it’s
managed by UNODC, but is a U.N. trust fund that is basically supporting nations
– mainly implemented by nongovernmental organizations around the world as a way
of increasing or – yeah, increasing the U.S. support to this kind of problem at
So it’s a relevant contribution, as I said, and is addressing transnational
organized crime in general.
SEN. RUBIO: Now, when these organizations look to recruit, for lack of a
better term, victims, what are the conditions – what are the underlying
conditions that create fertile ground for that? What are the – what are the
markers of a society that tell you that they’re – that they’re vulnerable to
this sort of activity?
MR. BONADEO: Well, in the U.N. – United Nations Global Plan of Action Against
Human Trafficking (sic), there are somehow recognition of the basic elements
that are somehow fostering human trafficking and those are, of course,
underdevelopment, poverty. And most recently we have been seeing that in
countries that are also affected by instability due to – political instability
due to transnational organized-crime type of activities, in particular drug
trafficking, also human trafficking is somehow increasing.
I’m thinking about West Africa, for instance, as a region that is under attack
by drug traffickers, and we have been seeing how there is an increase of
smuggling of migrants and human trafficking coming from that region. So, to
the traditional issues of underdevelopment and poverty, there is this new
element of instability that organized crime organization are also exploiting
for increasing their human trafficking activity.
SEN. RUBIO: So, when we look at source countries or source areas for victims,
what you’re basically looking at is a combination of the society where people
don’t see economic opportunities, deep poverty and despair, combined with a
government that’s either unwilling or unable to stop these predators from
coming in and taking advantage of that?
MR. BONADEO: Correct, (right ?).
SEN. RUBIO: And then – so on that question of governments that are unwilling
or unable to take care of it, how many of them are – have – I mean – and you
can identify them if you want to – but how big a problem do we have of nations
that don’t want to do anything about this because the transnational entities
have corrupted the government and have basically allowed them to – or gotten
them to look the other way?
MR. BONADEO: Well, as I said, the protocol to the Palermo Convention is the
most powerful tool that the international community has available for pushing
those governments that are not responsive or are not doing enough to do
something. A hundred and forty-six countries are parties to the – to the
protocol, but of course, being part(y) doesn’t mean that the protocol is fully
implemented and the countries that are somehow trying to cooperate on this
issue could also take advantage of the protocol itself. For instance, mutual
legal assistance is one of the elements included in the protocol and is always
helping in cooperation – making it possible – cooperation amongst countries on
criminal justice aspect of human trafficking.
SEN. RUBIO: What I’m trying to figure out –
MR. BONADEO: Yeah.
SEN. RUBIO: – and you, because of your global view on this, is how many –
obviously I think we know that there are countries that would like – we have
that tier system that our State Department uses – I think there are countries
that would want to improve if they had the resources to do it, and obviously
there are mechanisms in place to help them. Is there any evidence of a
significant number of either national governments or local governments in these
places that are in essence cooperating with the traffickers and with these
organizations because they’ve been corrupted, because they’re being paid off,
because of some mutually beneficial arrangement? I mean, is that – is that a
significant part of the problem?
MR. BONADEO: Is there – well, we are going to release a new human trafficking
report in 2012. The office is precisely working on this – on this study, so
all those elements will be highlighted in the new study, and we are also
working on the new UNODC global threat assessment, which is trying to highlight
how organized crime in all its forms are somehow affecting the stability of
Of course, there is a link between instability, corruption and the inability of
countries and governments to properly address this issue. Is – corruption is
not only fueling human trafficking as a – and activities of the international
organized crime organization; it is also fueling instability and, as I said,
I’m always referring to West Africa because it’s the most evident example on –
of how corruption – and generated by transnational organized crime – is really
basically failing governments of the countries. So –
SEN. RUBIO: And this is probably another question for some other advocates as
well, but what I would ask, I guess, is, are there any jurisdictions in the
world – cities or countries – that are basically known – that we know are
tolerating this or at – or maybe even encouraging it? In essence, they’re
sending out the message that this is the place to come to find victims? Or
this is the place to come to participate in these acts – and as particularly
when it comes to sexual exploitation? Are there any countries in the world who
are generally regarded as places where this is tolerated and maybe even
encouraged as either a source or as a destination?
MR. BONADEO: There are, but I –
SEN. RUBIO: (Inaudible) – find them? Like who would – and maybe you don’t
want to tell me, but how do I –
MR. BONADEO: Maybe if you re-read the report of the U.S. government on this
issue, you can find some –
SEN. RUBIO: OK.
MR. BONADEO: But, as the U.N., we are not really pointing the finger at over
one country or another; we are looking more at the regional level – this
phenomenon from the regional point of view and the route of traffickers. So
SEN. RUBIO: The last question is, I would imagine that awareness is a big – if
most people knew that what they were being recruited in – not most people, but
if anyone knew that they were being recruited into slavery via, you know,
forced labor, sexual exploitation, they wouldn’t go. So obviously, they’re
In addition, as a society, if everyone knew the signs of this, they would –
people would understand it, would recognize it and call it out. And I think
that’s true for some governments, that if they had the ability to recognize
this stuff or were sensitive to it – a lot of this is just an issue of
awareness. It’s hard to believe that this is happening. It’s hard for people
to accept that.
Well, how much of a challenge is that awareness aspect of it around the world?
Clearly, in a society like the one that you live in or I live in with massive
number of communications operations, news 24 hours, multiple newspapers, you
know, more news than you ever want or need, the – it’s one way to create
awareness for these issues, but I would imagine, especially in many of these
source countries, there’s no – the fact that this even exists is hard to
disseminate and hard to explain to people. I mean, is that an accurate
assessment? And what strategies are there in place to overcome that?
MR. BONADEO: At multilateral level? Well, first of all, awareness is
essential. And raising visibility around this issue is even more important,
especially in countries of source. At multilateral level, we are running a
global campaign called the Blue Heart Campaign, which is somehow raising
visibility and also bringing to the potential victims what are their rights and
how they can somehow avoid a certain situation or detect in advance being in
certain situation that are then leading them to be victims of human trafficking.
So in any of the UNODC projects that are addressing the human trafficking
around the world, there is also a component on awareness, especially in the
country of Africa and especially for projects implemented also in Southeast
So it’s there, but somehow is – the message sometimes is well received;
sometimes it’s not received. So there is a huge, huge effort that this –
should still be done on the – on this issue.
SEN. RUBIO: Thank you very much for your work and for your testimony.
MR. BONADEO: Thank you.
SEN. RUBIO: We appreciate it. Thank you.
MR. BONADEO: Thank you so much. Thank you so much.
SEN. RUBIO: And I think our last witness today is Ms. Martina Vandenberg, who
is the counsel for Freedom Network USA.
MARTINA VANDERBERG: Thank you very much, Senator Rubio. It’s an honor to
appear before you today. I would like to start by thanking you for your
leadership in this area in human trafficking, particularly your work on the
Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. It’s an honor to appear
this morning before the Helsinki Commission, and I appreciate this invitation
today to testify.
You and Chairman Smith have been particularly strong in your fight against all
forms of human trafficking, not just trafficking for forced prostitution, and
that is very, very much appreciated by the organizations in the advocacy
community. I was particularly heartened to see the hearing before this
committee in May on forced labor.
Over the years, the Helsinki Commission has steadfastly fought to keep the
view, to keep the focus on the victims of human trafficking. And it’s that
perspective that I hope to bring to bring to you today.
I lived in Russia for four years in the fight against violence, against women
and trafficking, and my favorite word that I learned in Russia was
“konkretenosti (ph)”, so I’ll be very concrete today. I’ve spent 17 years in
the fight against human trafficking, both as an activist and as an attorney. I
currently serve as pro bono counsel to the Freedom Network USA, which is a
coalition of 31 nongovernmental organizations and leaders providing services to
and advocating for the rights of trafficking survivors here in the United
States. The Freedom Network was created in 2001, immediately following the
enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
I’ve submitted lengthy testimony for this hearing, and I’d ask that that
lengthy testimony be placed in the record, but I’ve changed my comments to fit
the time allotted this morning. And I’d just like to highlight three organized
crime trends that have been identified by advocates in the field, and also
three strategies for combating this grave human rights violation. And then,
finally, I’ll provide some concrete recommendations to the commission.
So trend number one that I’d like to focus on is that human trafficking is not
only organized crime, it’s what we might call disorganized crime. Often today,
in the United States, we see human trafficking conducted by small groups
operating independently. In the words of Florrie Burke, a Freedom Network
leader and one of the leading experts on human trafficking in the United
States, quote, we are seeing more family-run operations and small criminal
networks. It is not the old definition of organized crime, but it is just as
Take the Carreto case, for example. In 2008, a diminutive grandmother from
Mexico pled guilty to sex trafficking for her role in a family-run gang based
in Tenancingo, Mexico. According to the indictment, two of Ms. Carreto’s sons
and an associate used, quote, physical violence, sexual assault, threats of
harm, deception, false promises and coercion to force the women into forced
prostitution in the United States.
The traffickers brought impoverished women from Mexico, women and girls. They
did so for more than a decade before they were stopped by the Department of
Justice. And in some cases, the traffickers approached the young women in
their villages and claimed that they had fallen in love with them, tricked the
women, in some cases, impregnated them, and then held the children back in
Mexico as essentially hostages.
These organized groups are small and opportunistic and they can be incredibly
brutal. But that said, they don’t have to rely on extreme violence. Often,
the threat of arrest, detention and deportation by U.S. law enforcement is
enough to hold victims in servitude. Threats to family members and especially
to children in the country of origin often compel the victims’ compliance.
So let me move to the second trend that we’ve seen in the field, trend two:
Where are the prosecutions?
According to the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, in 2010,
there were just 6,017 prosecutions and 3,619 convictions. Those aren’t
statistics for the United States; those are statistics for the entire world.
In the United States, in the same year, 2010, there were just 103 federal
prosecutions of 181 defendants, with 141 convictions. Now, in light of the
State Department’s own estimate, that there are between 14,500 and 17,500
trafficking victims brought into the United States for forced labor and forced
prostitution every year, 103 prosecutions is appallingly low. In Europe, in
2010, there were 2,803 prosecutions resulting in 1,850 convictions.
Again, these numbers should give us pause, because they indicate that
traffickers, whether they are members of international criminal enterprises or
syndicates, or solo practitioners like so many of the traffickers I have sued
as a pro bono attorney here in the United States – families, husbands, wives,
diplomats who have brought individuals into the United States and held them in
forced labor – these individuals enjoy near-complete impunity, and only a tiny
fraction of the prosecutions and convictions that have taken place have been
for forced labor.
Prosecutors are focusing on low-hanging fruit. They’re bringing prosecutions
for sex trafficking. In Europe, for example, of that enormous number, 2,803
prosecutions, only 47 were for forced labor. The rest were for forced
prostitution, trafficking for forced prostitution.
So let me turn now to trend number three, which is, organized crime feeds on
Corruption is absolutely essential to traffickers’ success. I have testified
before this commission in the past about the concrete cases of corruption that
my colleagues and I at Human Rights Watch documented in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As reported in the Human Rights Watch publication, “Hopes Betrayed:
Trafficking of Women and Girls to Post-Conflict Bosnia & Herzegovina for Forced
Prostitution,” corrupt police officers participated directly in trafficking.
Some of the police officers moonlighted as guards in brothels holding
trafficked women, helping to enforce their enslavement. Traffickers provided
pay-offs to local police in the form of cash and free sexual services from the
trafficked women themselves. This was all in exchange for protection from
raids. Every time there was going to be a raid, the brothel owner would get a
call and a warning. The International Police Task Force would arrive on the
scene, and the women would all be holding their passports. They had been
instructed on exactly what to say. All of this was made possible through
Corruption and organized crime and, indeed, those organized criminals engaged
in trafficking have a symbiotic relationship. And yet corruption is one of the
most under-reported elements of human trafficking.
But for the victims, it is one of the most fundamental elements because
corruption is the backdrop to all of the trafficking-related exploitation that
they experience in the United States. The women and children and men who are
trafficked into the United States fear that police officers are simply in
cahoots, in business with the traffickers, that judges can easily be bought off
and that prosecutors would never zealously prosecute a trafficker. These
beliefs are common among the victims that we confront every day at the Freedom
Network, at the member organizations. Many of the people we deal with, many of
the victims come from countries where corruption is utterly rife. And they
assume that the United States is no different. Indeed, that’s what the
traffickers have told them.
The traffickers have told them time and time again that once they are captured
by U.S. law enforcement, they’ll be detained, they will be prosecuted, they
will be deported. Some have been told that they will disappear. For many of
our clients, a so-called rescue by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is not a
rescue. For them, it is the culmination of all the horror stories that they
have been told by the traffickers. It is in their eyes an arrest. Victims
from countries where justice is bought and sold on a daily basis see little
hope of escape; they see little hope of justice; they see little hope of
prosecution. The traffickers stoke and exploit these fears, telling them that
the police are actually on their side, that the police will help the
traffickers. This corruption silences the victims and it guarantees impunity.
So let’s turn now to the strategies. The second portion of the hearing is,
strategies for combating human trafficking.
So strategy one, and this is essential: Protect the victims and the witnesses.
Trafficked men, women and children arrive on the Freedom Network member
organizations’ doorsteps in very different ways. Some have come through good
Samaritans; some have come through law enforcement; others find our
organizations through faith-based communities. But no matter how they find the
Freedom Network member organizations, these victims have several things in
common. First, they are highly traumatized. Second, they are utterly
terrified. And third, they are concerned most about their family members back
home in the country of origin, particularly their children. A victim of
trafficking who is not safe cannot cooperate. In the face of threats from the
traffickers, she cannot testify against the trafficker.
Now, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act provides tools to protect the
victims, but these tools are grossly, grossly underused. One of the key
building blocks here in the United States is called continued presence. It’s a
temporary form of immigration relief available only through an application by
federal enforcement officer. Continued presence, or CP, permits victims of
trafficking to remain in the United States during a criminal investigation
without fear of deportation. But the number of victims receiving continued
presence in the United States has utterly plummeted. According the State
Department Trafficking in Persons Report in June 2011, 299 victims received
this very basic form of protection in 2009. But in 2010, that number dropped
It is not only victims of trafficking who need protection; it is, indeed, their
families. In the Carreto case, the forced prostitution case that I mentioned
earlier, the traffickers and, in fact, the grandmothers – the mothers of the
actual traffickers operating in the United States – held the victims’ children
hostage. According to Suzanne Tomatore, an attorney and co-chair of the
Freedom Network, Russian traffickers currently operating in New York routinely
terrify their victims by bragging about links to organized crime back in the
Russian Federation. Family members, these women are told, will not be safe
unless they continue to work in strip clubs, they continue surrendering all of
So these cases, I think, speak very poignantly to the need to protect not just
victims in the United States where, I would argue, we are falling down on the
job, but also their family members abroad. Family members should be paroled
into the United States. The categories for derivative status – because, again,
trafficking victims can get special visas known as T visas, and their
relatives, their very close relatives, can get T derivative – T derivative
visas – those lists, those categories of individuals who are – who are able to
get T-derivative visas should be expanded.
Now, strategy number two – and this has been raised, I think, in the prior
testimony: Watch not just the illegal immigration streams but the legal
immigration streams, and in particular, watch the foreign labor recruiting
organizations. Traffickers are enormously clever. They are very what the
Russians would call “gibka (ph),” which is flexible. They can adapt quickly.
Consider the case of Askarkhodjaev, an Uzbek national. Now, Mr. Andres has
already told you a bit about this case, so let me just fill in a few of the
details. This Uzbek citizen and his co-conspirators lived in Kansas City.
According to the 90-page indictment in this first case as a RICO criminal case
against a foreign labor recruiter, according to the 90-page indictment, the
traffickers charged their victims between 3,000 (dollars) to $5,000 to obtain
temporary H-2B visas, employment visas to work temporarily in the United
States. The victims and their families borrowed heavily to pay these enormous
fees. They were told, however, by the traffickers, that if they left the
exploitative labor conditions that they were held in in 14 states in the United
States and if they returned home, their families would have to pay an
additional $5,000. The traffickers not only did not pay them wages, did not
pay them overtime, but put them in apartment buildings, told them they had to
live there, charged them astronomical rents, and when the victims actually did
occasionally get a paycheck, sometimes that paycheck was for negative earnings
because they owed the traffickers so much money.
Now, in that case, there was a – there was a guilty plea, which brings me to
the next point, another strategy for fighting human trafficking: Grab the
Under U.S. law, restitution for trafficking victims is mandatory. That’s 18
USC 1593, part of the TVPA. That’s the law. But the reality that the
advocates see in the field is quite different.
In the experience of Freedom Network members, restitution orders are rarely
collected. In some cases, the seized assets go directly to government coffers.
In other cases, the U.S. Attorney's Office does not enforce the restitution
orders aggressively. Restitution orders must be enforced. And in the first
instance, it is the federal government’s responsibility to do so.
Now, why? Why does restitution matter? As we’ve all heard today, human
trafficking is highly, highly lucrative. And seizing criminals’ assets, to
some extent, will deter their crime. Enforcing restitutions renders
trafficking slightly less lucrative. And second, trafficking victims are owed
these funds. This is money that was stolen from them. When asked several
years ago how much restitution was actually ever distributed to the victims,
the Department of Justice just responded that they didn’t collect these
statistics. The Department of Justice should track the amounts of restitution
not just ordered by the courts but the actual amount of restitution that’s
collected. There is no higher use for organized crimes’ ill-gotten gains than
the restoration of the victims. So we need a scorecard: how much was ordered,
how much collected.
I have a host of recommendations, but I will just highlight a few this morning.
First is increase the use of continued presence. The Trafficking Victims
Protection Reauthorization Act had a section on lowering the standard slightly
for continued presence. It is important to do so, so that law enforcement will
use this tool to protect victims.
(Again ?), increase the categories available for T visa derivative status to
permit more family members to come in the United States.
Ensure that trafficking victims are not held in immigration detention, because
Increase the attention in the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report
to the role of corruption in human trafficking. This should include trafficking
by state officials, including a focus on diplomats trafficking domestic
workers for forced labor to the United States and around the world.
Include fraud in foreign labor contracting as a RICO predicate act. As you’ve
heard today, we see much fraud in foreign labor recruiting, and that is one of
the main, main methods used today by traffickers.
And then finally, request a Government Accountability Office study on the
collection of criminal restitution orders in human trafficking cases.
So I will leave it at that. I appreciate your concern and your focus on this
issue. And I’m happy to entertain any questions.
SEN. RUBIO: Thank you. And what I want to focus today on my questions with
you on is mostly the U.S. aspect of it. And here’s why – not because the
global one isn’t; it’s very important. I think – and for – in order for us to
have credibility on this issue globally as policymakers, as a government, as
members of this commission, we have to say that we ourselves are employing the
best practices. You have to hold yourself up to that standard, and you have to
lead by example. And I think we should never underestimate what a –
(inaudible) – example America can be.
So what I want to explore with you a little bit is when you talked about the
legal immigration streams. My guess is that – and really, let’s explore the
forced labor aspect of it – not that the sex trafficking is not egregious and
outrageous; it is, and we should focus on that as well, and it’s probably
coming through some of the same streams. But I think the one that – correct me
if I’m wrong, but the one that probably gets less attention but is a big
problem nonetheless is the forced labor one, because it can get nebulous.
So my first question – walk me through a little bit of what a typical – I would
imagine the majority of these people that are in forced labor actually enter
legally through one of these foreign worker programs. Walk me through what
that experience is like for the trafficked person. You are, you know, in a
society where somehow someone reaches out to you and says: There’s jobs
available in the United States. This is how much they will pay. I mean, walk
us through how that works and how they navigate the existing legal immigration
process to bring people here.
MS. VANDENBERG: I can give you two examples. One is here – right here in
Washington, D.C. It’s a case that I brought against a Tanzanian diplomat here.
SEN. RUBIO: And it’s a typical –
MS. VANDENBERG: It’s typical –
SEN. RUBIO: Except for the diplomat part, which that – is that pretty
prevalent? The diplomat –
MS. VANDENBERG: No, in Washington, D.C. and surrounds we see a large number of
cases of trafficking by diplomats. So in this particular case the diplomat in
Tanzania recruited a young woman to come to the United States and serve as a
nanny. Got her a visa – an A-3 visa – a visa reserved for diplomats to bring
over domestic workers to the United States. When she arrived in the United
States, according to the complaint that we filed and according to testimony
that she actually gave before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he refused
to pay her.
He took her passport away and forced her to work 17 hours a day for free. She
was not allowed to leave the house. She was cut off from her family entirely.
Because her visa – that A-3 visa – was completely bound to her employer, the
moment she walked out the employer’s door she was out of status. That is one
of the things in all of these visa schemes that makes it so frightening for the
victims. They understand that if they leave the trafficker they are
immediately in undocumented status.
Now, the other case I want to highlight is, again, this Uzbek trafficking case.
We call it the Giant Labor Solutions case. In this particular case – and
again the defendant Askarkhodjaev pled guilty in this case and was sentenced to
12 years – the scheme there, according to the criminal indictment, was to find
individuals already in the country with legal visas, whether they be J-1s or
other – B-1, B-2 – other visa status – and tell them, OK, we can get you an H-
And then they would file false statements to the Department of Labor to try and
get a certification, because in order to bring someone in on an H-2B visa, you
don’t necessarily need a name – you don’t need the name of the immigrant. What
you need are a number of slots. And you need a labor certification stating
that you can’t find U.S. domestic workers willing to fill those slots.
And so the indictment actually covered the failure to – first fraudulent
submissions made to the Department of Labor indicating that there were
companies that needed these slots, and then also the indictment covered the
traffickers switching, if you will – when the individuals came in on these H-2
– H-2B visas or when they received H-2B visas, they were not put in the slots.
They were not put in the jobs that had been certified by the Department of
Labor. They were moved all around the country and put in different – in
So from the perspective of the victim – and I’ve seen this in many of the pro
bono cases that we have brought on behalf of victims – from the perspective of
the victim, he or she believes that he or she is coming to the United States
legally. He or she will make significant amounts of money, certainly enough to
pay off the labor recruiter, or to pay off all the debts that they’ve incurred
at home and that the family has incurred at home. And they believe that they
will have a normal job – that they will be able to leave during the day after
work, that they will still have their passport, that they’ll earn a salary.
And so the shock when they come here is that they are bound to the employer,
many times the employer takes their passport. They are held in squalid
conditions. I had one case where a trafficking victim was forced to sleep on a
kitchen floor like a dog. And they – and they realize that if they leave they
risk being undocumented. And they risk deportation. And they are – they’re
terrified, particularly in this immigration environment in the United States.
SEN. RUBIO: Most of these victims are cut off from all information? I mean,
do they a have access to television? Do they have any time – what’s –
typically do they have any access to any news or information?
MS. VANDENBERG: They have two things. One, if they have come in in the last
few years, since the 2008 reauthorization, the Department of States consular
officials now give a brochure to every single individual coming to the United
States on a work visa. And that brochure is a –
SEN. RUBIO: In their native language?
MS. VANDENBERG: They – it’s not always in their native language.
SEN. RUBIO: OK.
MS. VANDENBERG: It’s been translated by the Department of State into about 11
languages. That brochure, however, which I think is the product of one of the
finest public-private partnerships I’ve seen under the Obama administration –
the Department of State cooperated with the nongovernmental organizations and
together created this pamphlet. The pamphlet has the phone number on it for
the national hotline and – so that National Human Trafficking Resource Center
hotline is listed on the brochure. And there have been literally thousands of
calls that have been prompted by people having the brochure.
Now, in my experience, with the trafficking victims that I have represented in
pro bono civil suits and from the cases that we’ve seen with Freedom Network
members, the victims may be able to watch television to some extent, although
in my experience – particularly with domestic workers – the moment they sit
down to watch television they’re told to get up and start working. You know,
go iron the curtains. I mean, there’s always some work that is created for
them so that they don’t have the opportunity to sit down.
Their access to telephones is very limited. They’re not generally allowed to
call anyone. They’re not generally allowed to have cell phones. And so that
isolation makes it – makes it very difficult as well.
I have seen cases where trafficking victims have come to the United States and
have gone into, you know, debt to their employers, who refuse to pay them and
then charge them all sorts of fees. And literally, those folks have contacted
their relatives in the country of origin to ask those relatives to send money
to them in the United States.
The entire point of migration by people who become trafficking victims is to
come to the United States to earn money so that they remit it home to their
families and children.
SEN. RUBIO: This hotline that you have, has there been any effort to create
public service announcements on news outlets that may reach, you know, migrant
MS. VANDENBERG: There has. And Mary Ellison, who’s from the Polaris Project,
which actually runs the – runs the hotline, is here today. There is, I think,
a provision in the current draft of the TVPRA to increase the amount of
publicity for the hotline. And they’re – the hotline is now posted quite
significantly around the country. So there have been a large number and a
growing number of – a growing number of calls.
SEN. RUBIO: I get – and well, who is it that runs the hotline?
MS. VANDENBERG: Mary Ellison. Mary –
MARY ELLISON: Yes.
SEN. RUBIO: Hi. Just a – the follow up that I would have is, I mean, I think
one of the things we could and should explore is whether some of the national
networks and local affiliates that – particularly broadcast – whether they’re
local stations, or broadcast, say, the Spanish networks or that broadcast to
migrant communities would be willing to run public service announcements
highlighting, you know, this issue. And in particular – you’re right. I mean,
there are certain things that are not legal. If you – if these things are
happening to you, it’s not normal, it’s not legal, and this is a number you can
call. Obviously it leads us to the –
MS. VANDENBERG: The Department of Homeland Security has actually created two
public service announcements, that are done both in English and I think they’re
also available in Spanish, that they’re planning to blast across the country.
SEN. RUBIO: OK.
MS. VANDENBERG: The one thing I would say about public service announcements
is that it’s very important to involve the nongovernmental organizations in the
creation and vetting of those public service announcements. We recently sent a
letter to the Department of Homeland Security with exactly that point, because
the nongovernmental organizations have by far the greatest experience with
victims of trafficking, and a much better sense, I think, of what will – what
will bring the message home to them.
SEN. RUBIO: The – on the – because I think you’re dealing with this a lot, our
existing visa programs – and there’s a – obviously not to wade too far into
another debate, which is politically problematic for a lot of people – but the
– our existing visa programs, in and of itself, are bureaucratic, complicated,
burdensome, difficult to navigate.
To what extent does that – to what extent is that utilized by traffickers? To
what extent are they hiding behind – have they figured out how to maximize it?
And to what extent would reforms to those programs be devastating? In essence,
are there specific reforms to those programs that we should explore, and what
are they, to help make it harder for these trafficking operations to function?
MS. VANDENBERG: Ironically, it is the difficulty of getting into the United
States – it is the difficulty of getting a U.S. visa that traffickers exploit,
because you need someone to help you. People sometimes will go to individuals
they think are smugglers to help smuggle them into the United States because
of, again, the very fierce immigration regime that the United States has, only
to learn that those smugglers aren’t actually smugglers. Those smugglers are
But let me – let me give you an example of how traffickers are so incredibly
nuanced and subtle in their crimes. I recently met with Paul Fishman, who’s
the U.S. attorney for New Jersey. And that office – the U.S. Attorney’s Office
in New Jersey brought a very important case out of Newark. It was a case of 20
or so young girls brought from Togo and Ghana – brought to Newark, forced to
work in hair-braiding salons. They would spend 16, 17 hours a day braiding
hair. They got to keep none of the money that they earned. They were abused,
again, held in conditions of squalor by the traffickers.
In that case, the question is, how did those young girls get here from Togo?
How did they get here from Africa? The trafficker, who was actually a very
well-respected businesswoman, realized that people who had won the green card
lottery in Africa couldn’t necessarily come to the United States because even
once you win the lottery it costs quite a lot of money to facilitate all of the
paperwork that you have to do.
So she, a very experienced businesswoman, said I will pay all those fees. I
will help you with all the paperwork. All you have to do is bring in this
young girl as your daughter. And so she paid off a number of individuals to
bring in – to bring in these children. The children were then turned over to
the traffickers in the United States – part of the same network. And in this
case, again, it was a family network – a wife, a husband and her son – who ran
the entire network, which over time earned about $4 million in proceeds.
And when those children arrived in the United States they were handed over to
the network, and they were put in these hair-braiding salons.
SEN. RUBIO: Basically, the complexity and expense associated with it creates
an environment conducive for middle men. And oftentimes, the middlemen are
traffickers who help you because they can front the money and help you navigate
the complicated process, but once you’re here you’re at their mercy.
MS. VANDENBERG: That’s exactly right. And once you’re here you may owe them
money. And once you’re here you are – you are constantly under the threat of
SEN. RUBIO: On the – what’s – you talked about how the CP process is not being
used as often. Is there any reason that you’ve been told why that’s the case?
Or do we know why – I’m sure there’s an explanation. I don’t know what it is,
MS. VANDENBERG: Yeah, we have racked our brains on this one. And the NGOs
have asked precisely this question, because as a representative – as a – as an
advocate and an attorney for trafficking survivors, whenever I go to the
Department of Justice and my client submits to an interview with the FBI or ICE
or the Department of Justice, we always ask for continued presence. It’s
always sort of one of the very first things on our agenda, so that the client
is safe and can continue to cooperate.
My feeling is that the problem is threefold. One, the standard is too high.
Right now the law enforcement authorities have to certify that someone is a
victim of a severe form of trafficking. After one interview with the victim,
it is very hard for a law enforcement officer to sign a declaration saying this
person is a victim of human trafficking. And they’re afraid to do so.
The second is I think that law enforcement personnel still need more training.
I think they are still convinced, many of them, that trafficking requires
snarling dogs, barbed wire, being chained to a radiator and high levels of
physical violence. And what we saw, and what we see now with human trafficking
is that that level of violence is unnecessary.
Indeed, the entire creation of the forced labor statute in the 2000 TVPA, if
you go back and look at the – at the legislative history – the entire purpose
for passing that statute was to, in a sense, go past Kosminski, the lead
Supreme Court case on involuntary servitude, and to show that a far lesser
degree – far more subtle forms of coercion, far more subtle threats, threats
against third parties – that all of those things are enough. The problem, I
think, is that law enforcement is still looking for rapes, sexual assaults, and
snarling dogs. And those things are not always – they’re not always present.
I think – I think the third problem is there’s a conflation of two different –
two different standards. There’s the standard for CP, and the standard for CP
should be available even after just one – even after just one interview with
the victim –
REPRESENTATIVE STEVEN COHEN (D-TN): Steve Cohen of Memphis – (inaudible) –
MS. VANDENBERG: Hi, Commissioner Cohen. Welcome. Thank you.
But the second standard is for T visas. When you file for a T visa, if you are
lucky – and it doesn’t happen very often – if you are lucky, you get what’s
called a Sup B – an I-914 Sup B, which is a certification by law enforcement
that this is indeed a trafficking case. And I fear that law enforcement has
confused these two standards. The standard for CP is much lower. It should be
just that we have an investigation going on. The standard for a T visa is,
this is a human trafficking case, and I certify that it is a crime. I fear
that those are getting – those are getting muddled.
SEN. RUBIO: And my last question is, the trafficking cases like the one you
outline from Ghana and other places – they have to have markers. There has to
be certain markers to a typical case or to a – that raise a red flag. I would
imagine two things; you correct me if I’m wrong. Number one is, there are
certain markers that you would see in a trafficking case that you wouldn’t see
in another clear-cut case, right? If someone’s coming in to work at, you know
– I think there are – there’s got to be some – at an elementary initial level,
an ability to differentiate between those that clearly look legitimate and
those that have some markers to it.
And the other is, there’s got to be some best practices. There’s got to be
organizations out there that we know are not traffickers and are involved in
the process of recruiting foreign workers, and – as opposed to those we’ve
never heard of before or are new to the marketplace or et cetera.
So for lack of a better term, we know what the routes are. We know where the
places (are ?) that people are coming through. We know what some of the
markers are. Isn’t there something to be said for – again, for lack of a
better term, profiling some of these cases, flagging them, understanding cases
that bring three or four elements that, at a minimum, require an additional
level of scrutiny? You talked about the diplomat case, for example. I imagine
there are legitimate diplomats that are bringing people in and are really
working and doing OK, and then there are others that maybe we had bad
experiences with in the – (inaudible).
Is there a role for that in the initial process, in the initial visa process of
trying to – I don’t know if the word is profile, but certainly identify cases
that raise certain red flags and maybe, at the front end, would provide more
scrutiny and follow-up? And I know a lot of that is a matter of resources.
MS. VANDENBERG: So let me start with the diplomats. There are diplomats who
are what I would call repeat offenders. These are diplomats who bring in
domestic worker after domestic worker after domestic worker. And what happened
to all of the other domestic workers before who ran away or who went home
without warning is a mystery. So I think that the State Department should
definitely be looking for what I would call serial domestic worker visas.
SEN. RUBIO: How do we find who they are? How do I get the name of those
MS. VANDENBERG: Oh. Call me.
SEN. RUBIO: OK.
MS. VANDENBERG: Yeah. (Chuckles.) But I think the State Department legal
office actually, I think, has a sense. And they’ve – and because of the
changes that you made in the 2008 TVPRA, that reauthorization, they are now
required to track these things. And they are supposed to – at least to put red
flags in the system so that individuals who are accused of exploitation on
numerous occasions cannot get more visas, which is a good – which is a good
In terms of the red flag and what we need to watch, I think you really put your
finger on it when you said, you know, our immigration scheme is complex and
difficult, and you need a middleman. We need to be looking at the middlemen.
We really need to be focusing on labor recruiters. And one of the things that
has recently happened – and a representative from the Department of Labor who
appeared before this commission in the May forced labor hearing talked about
this a little bit – there are now regulations on the H-2A visas that indicate
that you cannot, as a foreign labor recruiter, demand fees from the actual
employees that you’re bringing to the United States. Senator Cardin at that
hearing asked a very important question, which is, how do you enforce that?
How are you enforcing that?
And so the nongovernmental organizations and the Freedom Network advocates and
others put forward a proposal for enhanced regulation of foreign labor
recruiters. Again, the nongovernmental organizations also put forward a
proposal to make fraud and foreign labor recruiting a RICO – a RICO predicate
act so that criminal cases can be brought in these cases.
It is highly troubling that there are labor recruiting agencies who are able to
bring over not just hundreds, but thousands of individuals who then find
themselves in situations of exploitation in the United States. And let’s be –
let’s be fair: Not all of those situations of exploitation rise to the level
of human trafficking, which is a high bar, but labor exploitation in the United
States is rife.
What I can say is that what I see, even with my clients, even with the victims
of human trafficking I’ve represented pro bono, even with those individuals
after they get T visas and everything in the United States is supposed to be
terrific, I have seen, time and time again, those victims end up with
exploitative employers who do not pay the minimum wage, who do not pay them
overtime when they work overtime. And that level of labor exploitation that
occurs in the grey economy, even for people with legal visa status, is very,
So the NGOs, the nongovernmental organizations have called for greater
involvement by the Department of Labor and greater enforcement of labor
exploitation laws generally because that will change the playing field. If
labor exploitation is focused upon, then trafficking will be also more
difficult to commit, or at least noticed more frequently.
REP. COHEN: Thank you. I appreciate the work you do, and you do most of it
pro bono, and you’re to be commended and thanked by this commission and by our
But let me ask you about the labor exploitation. In what fields is that mostly
taking place in?
MS. VANDENBERG: It’s a wide variety of fields. And if you look at the cases
that the Department of Justice has prosecuted and should get tremendous credit
for prosecuting, they run the gamut from, as I mentioned, hair-braiding salons
in Newark, New Jersey, to nail salons all up and down the Eastern Seaboard, to
agricultural labor in Florida and – you know, harvesting of beans; hotel work,
hospitality work. There was one particularly egregious in South Dakota that
was prosecuted by the Department of Justice where a husband-and-wife team
brought in a group of workers from the Philippines, some of them with master’s
degrees in hospitality, and told them that they would be sort of running a
hotel, and when they arrived, they were basically forced to work around the
clock, many of them doing housekeeping services in the hotel rooms. So it
really – it really runs the gamut.
Most of the people that I represent in civil cases, including a RICO civil
case that we brought in the Eastern District of Wisconsin against what we
called a family criminal enterprise, most of the people I’ve represented are
REP. COHEN: Is there any particular – is there any corporation that we might
know about that has some dirty little secret that – (inaudible) – labor
exploitation that you would like to reveal at this time? (Laughter.)
MS. VANDENBERG: I’m going to take the UNODC approach to this and not name any
names. But I would – but I would say that the organizations that are – that
are doing labor recruiting, and they are certainly known to the Department of
State and to the Department of Homeland Security, those organizations need to
be – need to be monitored to make sure that the visa applications and the – and
the Department of Labor certifications that they are submitting are accurate
and not fraudulent.
I will say that there are number of companies that are now facing civil
lawsuits. The Southern Poverty Law Center has brought a lawsuit on behalf –
it’s actually, I think, now been certified as a class action – brought on
behalf of workers brought into the United States from India, including
high-skilled workers like welders and other skilled builders in the wake of
Hurricane Katrina. And so the Southern Poverty Law Center is now pursuing a
lawsuit that’s been written up in The New York Times on a number of occasions
for allegations of trafficking those workers to work in Mississippi and the
REP. COHEN: When people hear about human trafficking, I think they normally
think of sexual exploitation and bringing in from Eastern Europe or wherever.
What percentage of the problem is indeed in that capacity, as distinguished
from ordinary labor?
MS. VANDENBERG: You know, it’s a very difficult question to answer, and the
statistics on this are very problematic. But I would say that the best
statistics on this are the International Labor Organization’s statistics. And
the International Labor Organization has said that there are approximately 12.3
million people around the world who are held in forced labor. Now, the ILO’s
understanding of that is that of that, some subset, 2.4 million, are held in
conditions that they would consider trafficking.
Now, when the International Labor Organization sort of breaks that down in
terms of forced labor as opposed to forced prostitution as opposed to sexual
exploitation of children, I think the numbers get a little bit murkier there.
And part of the reason is because in many of the forced labor cases that we
have seen with the Freedom Network members, particularly forced labor cases
involving children, it is not just forced labor; many of the children are also
sexually violated. So many of the children are raped and sexually abused when
they’re in situations of forced labor.
So it’s a difficult – it’s a difficult question to answer, but I think
Congressman Smith has said in the past, as have many others, that forced labor
is actually the majority of trafficking that we see around the world, number
one. Number two, it is what I always call the caboose of the human trafficking
train, because it’s the most forgotten, the most ignored, the least discussed.
And third, it is the least prosecuted. I mentioned some statistics, then: You
know, of the 2,803 prosecutions in Europe, 47 of them were for forced labor.
And so there is this danger, I think, in law enforcement, to go after the easy
stuff. The easy stuff, in a sense, is forced prostitution and street
prostitution. It’s very easy to go after those cases. It’s fairly obvious.
It’s our traditional view of forced – of – it’s our traditional view of
trafficking. As you say, it’s the kind of trafficking that we read about in
the newspaper. Forced labor is harder to find. It takes far more effort to
find forced labor. And unfortunately, that kind of effort is not being
REP. COHEN: I did not have the opportunity to hear your opening statement,
which I wish I could have, and I don’t think it’s in our books. So you may
have answered this already, but are there recommendations that you have for
laws that need to be tweaked in our country?
MS. VANDENBERG: I included – I included in my remarks 12 recommendations, so a
host of –
REP. COHEN: Oh, OK. Keep me busy.
MS. VANDENBERG: – a host of recommendations. They’re not all legislative.
What I would say is, the Freedom Network members have been making the rounds in
meeting with many, many members, both of the House and the Senate, including
Senator Rubio’s staff, to talk about the Trafficking Victims Protection
Reauthorization that is up this year. And the members of the nongovernmental
organization communities really feel that this reauthorization is enormously
So the current legislative ball that we have our eye on is the TVPRA and the
importance of passing the TVPRA, which has some elements that we asked for and
some elements that we did not – that we requested and did not get. So, for
example, the CP changes to protect victims, those are in the House version;
they’re not in the Senate version. The foreign labor recruiting provisions
that had been – that had been requested were in the House bill but now have
been stripped out. The Senate bill includes a request for a GAO study to look
at foreign labor recruiting. So at a minimum, I think the GAO study should go
forward. But I think – I think the NGO community feels very, very strongly
that the TVPRA is sort of the most important piece of legislation that could
pass in the near future.
REP. COHEN: Thank you very much for your time and for your work, and I
appreciate it. And Senator Rubio, thank you for your time. I yield back.
SEN. RUBIO: Thank you for your testimony. Thank you all for being here. And
the committee – the commission is adjourned.