Two developments cracking down on human trafficking took place last week. On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf announced the opening of the DHS Center for Countering Human Trafficking: The first-ever INTEGRATED law enforcement operations center, to directly support federal criminal investigations, victim assistance efforts, intelligence analysis, outreach and training activities related to human trafficking and forced labor.
“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. There is no other way to say it,” said Acting Secretary Chad Wolf. In 2018 alone, more than 23,000 human trafficking victims were identified in the United States. Of these victims, 65% were women. More than 1 in 5 were children. Performing the Duties of Director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Tony Pham., who joined Secretary Wolf added that, “human trafficking, whether through sex or labor, is a detriment to our society and threatens the moral conscience of our nation. Criminal organizations target those who are most vulnerable and exploit them through any means necessary. Victims are treated as commodities rather than human beings, with no regard for their health and well-being.”
The center will be staffed with law enforcement officials from the Homeland Security Investigations unit (HSI) and other areas of DHS, along with experts and support staff.
ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit (HSI) are world experts in investigating human trafficking and sexual exploitation cases. The new Centre will follow and expand the agency’s “victims first” approach, which combines victim identification, rescue, and support with prevention, investigation, and prosecution of traffickers. Moreover, ICE’s HSI is particularly well-positioned to direct criminal, immigration, and trade-based authorities to take PROACTIVE steps identifying, disrupting, and dismantling cross-border human trafficking organizations.
DHS reports that ICE initiated 1024 human trafficking and forced labor-related cases in 2019 leading to 2197 criminal arrests, 700 ended in convictions and crucially, 400 victims were rescued.
The media ignores.
After Secretary Wolf’s and Director Pham’s remarks, NO reporter had any questions, and subsequently, NO news outlet covered the opening of the first-ever U.S government law enforcement operations center for Countering Human Trafficking.
The National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking
Also on Tuesday, President Trump released his administration’s three-part action plan to PREVENT trafficking, PROTECT victims, and PROSECUTE the criminals who fuel this evil industry.
Since taking office, President Trump has signed nine pieces of bipartisan legislation that target human traffickers, both domestically and internationally. This included the largest Dept. of Justice grant package in history to stop trafficking. The first-ever grants to provide safe housing for survivors. In January 2020 he signed an Executive Order on Combating Human Trafficking and Online Child Exploitation, and his White House became the first one to focus solely on ending trafficking completely.
Bella Hounakey, appointed to the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking
Bella grew up in Togo, West Africa. For her, the dream of becoming a lawyer was not a realistic possibility for a girl. Her parents knew their community did not have the resources to allow her to reach her potential, but a close relative, her Aunt, offered some hope. Bella says, her Aunt understood she wanted a better education. “When she came by she said that she saw potential in me and she wanted me to come with her to the United States. My parents sent me without question." At only age 9, Bella went to her aunt's house, two hours away, and anxiously waited four months until it was time to travel to her new life in the United States. Together, with seven other girls, whom she was related to through her Aunt’s husband, they set out for New Jersey.
Bella recalls that her Aunt had a seven-bedroom house, in an upper-class neighborhood of Newark, but when she walked through the doors her dreams came to a crashing halt. She said, “when we arrived, there were 22 girls in the house.” That's when the horror began. “We were working about 18 hours a day. Sleeping 10 girls to a room. We were just working robots." Bella’s aunt owned a hair salon where the girls were used as slave labor, doing elaborate braids on customers all day long. Each girl was given a false identity, and the Aunt would wake the girls up in the middle of the night to make them learn and practice scripts to match their new identities.
For example, Bella says, "if you came across me at the salon and asked, 'You're so young, why are you working here and why are you not in school?' we would have answers for you. We literally worked so hard to live a false life." Bella says the salon was like a prison, but the house the girls stayed in was no better. "You would think it was the braiding that was making (my Aunt) money, but it was actually sex trafficking that was making her money." For five years, Bella’s life was a nightmare. She says, “hope is the worst thing to lose, because at that point you are not sure if there's any gateway for you. I never thought I would get a second chance."
She often daydreamed about being free.
Bella explained, "I used to do this lady's hair. I did her hair for two years at the salon. She came the same time every single month, and I would look at her and just wanted her to know that I was in pain. She never really asked me questions. I was so upset at her because every month when she came, I would say, 'This month she's going to know that something's wrong and take me with her.' But she didn't. I wanted her to be this saviour, and I was so angry at her."
Then, one morning in November 2007, that changed. Bella and the others were awakened by police and FBI agents in their house, helicopters circling overhead. Finally, authorities had come to their aid. The girls who were still minors went into the Michigan foster system, and their captors were prosecuted. It turned out too, that the woman she longed to save her played a key role in their rescue: "She was actually working for the FBI and helping with the investigation,” Bella recalled. "She told me in court, 'I wanted to take you every single time I came, but if I did, we wouldn't have saved everybody.'"
It is cases of modern-day slavery like these that the Trump administration is committed to eradicating.
Bella is now a US citizen, and draws on her experience to evaluate policies of government agencies and help them develop strategies to create awareness, PREVENT and root out human trafficking, as well as provide services to survivors. She says, "somebody somewhere is isolated and is experiencing the same horror as I did." The Trump administration’s announcements this week will take another huge stride towards PROTECTING and RESCUING victims.
The legacy media plays down or does not cover stories showing positive developments like this.
Carol King received a first-class BA (honors) in History and Politics from Stirling University, along with an exceptional commendation for a study on US public opinion and Foreign Policy. She also completed a year of study at the University of London before taking up a Graduate Proctor Fellowship at Princeton University. She further completed an MPhil in American Politics at Dundee University. Aspiring to be a writer/commentator on American politics, she now writes for UncoverDC.