- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2001

Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday called on federal law enforcement personnel, immigration officers and State Department officials to provide protection and other assistance to victims of human trafficking as their cases are investigated and prosecuted.
"The toll in human suffering caused by human trafficking and forced labor is enormous," Mr. Ashcroft said at a news conference to announce new regulations brought by the Justice and State departments.
"The cooperative efforts of federal agencies and law enforcement officials will help provide victims with the tools and services needed to punish traffickers to the fullest extent of the law," he said, noting that 50,000 people annually, overwhelmingly women and children, are brought into the United States and are forced to labor against their will.
"Many are forced into the sex trade. But the crime of human trafficking is not limited to the sex industry," he said. "Victims are often forced to labor in illegal sweatshops, in agricultural industry locations, or in domestic servitude."
The new regulations instruct federal law enforcement personnel, immigration officials and State Department officials to identify victims of severe forms of human trafficking, protect victims in custody, provide victims with access to information and translation services, and develop appropriate training for Justice Department and State Department personnel investigating and prosecuting the cases.
Acting under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed by Congress in October, Mr. Ashcroft announced in March that combating human trafficking would be a Justice Department priority. He issued guidelines to federal prosecutors describing the new crimes under the act and urged coordination among U.S. attorneys and the civil rights and criminal division at the Justice Department in Washington.
Joined at the news conference by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, Mr. Ashcroft ordered that federal officials identify victims of "severe" human trafficking and that the victims be "informed of their rights, provided information about pro bono and low-cost legal services, and given access to translation services if they're unable to communicate in English."
The attorney general said victims of severe forms of trafficking who are in custody will be protected.
In addition, he said, access to medical assistance and the help of victim service organizations, including domestic violence and rape crisis centers, will be provided.
"In order to enable law enforcement officials to successfully prosecute traffickers, officials may allow victims who cooperate with prosecutors to remain in the United States rather than to return to their home countries," he said.
Since the act's passage, Mr. Ashcroft said, it has become apparent how urgently these measures are needed.
He said the Justice Department has encountered "a large number of individuals who need protection from retaliation and continued victimization by people who traffic them into the United States."
Others, he said, need assistance in recovering from the trauma of having been brought to this country as prostitutes or forced laborers.
Mr. Smith said many young women are lured to the United States with the promise that they will obtain legitimate jobs, but when they arrive, "their passport is pulled and then they realize the nightmare that they're in for."
He noted that before passage of the act, convictions of those responsible for bringing their human cargo to this country carried prison sentences of less than two years.
The Justice Department has prosecuted 16 trafficking cases since 1999. A department official said problem areas are in Southern states, parts of the East Coast and California.

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