- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan is working with the U.S. government on illegal-immigration issues by participating in a program to catch those who smuggle illegals into the country.

County police Chief J. Thomas Manger said yesterday that officers have undergone awareness training, learning to look for “red flags” that signal involuntary servitude and human trafficking and how to pose questions that might expose trafficking incidents.

“We have these cantinas operating out of apartments in the county [in which] women are being forced into sexual slavery to pay back a debt for being brought to this country or for any number of motives,” he said.

The County Council also has embraced the move, declaring the next several days “Stop Human Trafficking Week.”

The decision to participate in the program follows Mr. Duncan’s steadfast position that stopping illegal immigration is a federal issue.

“The federal government needs to enforce immigration laws,” he said in August. “Frankly, they have not been doing it.”

Spokesman David Weaver said Mr. Duncan’s decision to participate does not signify a change in his position.

“Doug’s point on immigration is very simple,” Mr. Weaver said. “The federal government has the legal obligation and authority to patrol our borders.

“We don’t. We’re left to deal with the reality that once the federal government fails to do its job and illegal immigrants come to our region, we have to deal with the hand that’s dealt us. … Our frustration is the Bush administration is not protecting our borders.”

Mr. Weaver also said such a collaboration is not unprecedented, citing the county’s work with federal officials on major crime issues such as the sniper shootings in October 2002 and gang violence.

However, Montgomery County was not among the 17 regions picked by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to participate in its “Rescue and Restore” campaign, so county officials had to ask whether they could participate.

Trafficking is a $13 billion-a-year industry that smuggles about 1 million people — most of them women and runaway children — across international borders annually.

The District-based Center for Immigration Studies recently reported that Maryland has about 100,000 illegal aliens, with as many as 45,000 in Montgomery County, based upon birth records.

Police officials and advocacy-group members who attended a press conference yesterday in Wheaton recalled several cases in Montgomery County in which smugglers promised teen girls an education, only to beat and sexually assault them before forcing them into prostitution, domestic servitude or marriages.

The officials said jobs at restaurants, landscaping businesses and massage parlors mask the true stories of the nearly 18,000 who are smuggled into the U.S. annually.

Montgomery County’s sizable immigrant population makes it a prime location to “isolate and hide” trafficking victims, said Jeredine Williams, executive director of Migrant and Refugee Cultural Support Inc., which sponsored the event yesterday.

Mr. Duncan, a Democrat, did not attend the event.

The U.S. attorney’s office in the state has prosecuted six trafficking cases, all from Montgomery County.

In 2001 and 2004, couples from Silver Spring and Germantown were convicted of using falsified passports to smuggle, assault and enslave 14-year-old girls from Cameroon and Nigeria. The girls were forced to work as maids and nannies with little or no pay.

Last week, a federal grand jury indicted six Montgomery County residents — including a mother and her three children — on charges that they illegally transported aliens into the county to work in a prostitution ring.

Delegate Adrienne A. Mandel, Annapolis Democrat, said at the event yesterday that she and other lawmakers will reintroduce the anti-trafficking bill voted down last year.

“It’s really important the Maryland General Assembly [and] our local governments … continue to act to address this issue,” she said.

Steve Wagner, director of the federal trafficking campaign, said a victim’s immigration status is not the key issue.

“The bottom line is that it’s irrelevant whether a victim of human trafficking is here illegally or not,” he said. “It’s a good thing that local law enforcement wants to get in this issue and, for them, immigration status shouldn’t be a concern.”

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