Customs and Border Protection Fights Human Trafficking

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The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has an estimated 42,000 frontline CBP officers and Border Patrol Agents assigned in the 327 ports of entry in various parts of the country and about 7,000 miles of land border it shares with other countries. Because of their unique role as guardians in our country’s borders and official entry points, the CBP is one of the primary agencies tasked with deterring and disrupting human trafficking.

Officially, the Department of Homeland Security, State Department, Department of Justice, and the Department of Health and Human Services are the primary U.S. executive agencies that combat this complex crime. The CBP, together with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, are component agencies of the DHS. These government agencies work with state and local law enforcement organizations and nonprofit organizations to enforce the provisions of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act which was made law in 2000.

Research from the United Nations International Labor Organization shows that at any given time, there are at least 12.3 million enslaved adults and children around the world. At least 1.39 million are forced to work as sex slaves. The ILO also reveals that 56 percent of all victims of forced labor are women and girls. Aside from the commercial sex trade where many victims end up in, there are also other labor situations considered as human trafficking. These include domestic servitude, labor in a prison-like factory, and migrant agricultural work. Any other labor situation where force, fraud, or coercion is used on individuals is also considered human trafficking.

It is not easy to identify victims of this heinous crime primarily because the signs are very subtle. But CBP officers undergo training to detect indicators which may be present singularly or in combination with others. Usually, victims of human trafficking lack identification documents or travel documents; live and work in the same place; and lack freedom of movement. They also seem to be restricted from socializing, attending religious services or contacting family; seem to have been deprived of basic life necessities, such as food, water, sleep or medical care; and show signs of having been abused or physically assaulted.

Abuse can be evidenced by broken bones or the not-so-obvious mark brought about by branding or tattooing. Other indicators that CBP officers and Border Patrol Agents look for include submissiveness or fear in the presence of others; having no control of his or her schedule; lacking in concrete short- or long-term plans; and lacking knowledge about the place where he or she lives. Women victims also appear to date much older, abusive or controlling men.

CBP Officers and Border Patrol Agents work to proactively stop human trafficking. According to their website, there are currently ten actions that the CBP undertakes to disrupt this crime. These are:

  1. Identifying potential victims as they seek to enter the U.S.
  2. Directing potential victims to U.S. agencies providing legal protection and assistance, through printed materials with educational information and telephone numbers where help can be obtained
  3. Raising awareness among the American public of this often-invisible, yet pervasive crime, through public service announcements
  4. Raising awareness internationally among potential border-crossers before they fall into the hands of traffickers, in countries where this crime is pervasive and where border smuggling frequently involves human trafficking
  5. Helping the public to report suspected cases of human trafficking
  6. Identifying imports produced by forced labor and stopping them from entering the country
  7. Dedicating an office specifically to combating human trafficking
  8. Partnering with other law enforcement agencies to identify and support victims, such as by educating legal counsel to detect signs of victimization, to disrupt the crime itself and to prosecute human traffickers
  9. Partnering with non-governmental organizations to provide information about government assistance to potential victims
  10. Participating in the development of best practices for law enforcement efforts within the U.S. and internationally