More than half of the human traffickers known to federal authorities used work and fiance visas to smuggle their victims into the U.S. over that past decade, according to a new watchdog report.
Auditors from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found that “from 2005 to 2014, work and fiance visas were the primary means by which 17 of 32 known traffickers brought victims to the United States.”
An additional 274 subjects of investigations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement successfully petitioned to bring 425 family members and fiances into the U.S, according to the report.
In some cases, the victims were enticed by traffickers with the promise of well-paid jobs and stable living conditions. Victims would pay thousands of dollars in recruiting and other filing fees, but upon arrival to the U.S., the traffickers would force victims into slavery and prostitution.
“In some cases, parents sold their children who were brought to the United States and forced into slave labor or prostitution to pay off their travel debts,” according to the report.
The report found that traffickers were able to sneak their victims into the country in part because ICE and DHS’ other agency responsible for immigration enforcement — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — sometimes failed to share data they had collected on traffickers.
In addition, investigators found problems with the quality of data ICE maintained on the people it investigated, arrested or prosecuted for immigration law violations.
After more than a year, ICE was unable to provide auditors with a complete set of data containing basic information such as the names and dates of birth for suspected traffickers.
When the agency did provide the data, the results varied widely, according to the report.
“Without concerted D.H.S. efforts to collect and share information, the risk exists that some human traffickers may remain unidentified and free to abuse other individuals,” the report said.
The report comes as lawmakers are examining ways to close loopholes in the visa-waiver program.
Fourteen people were gunned down in San Bernardino, California, in a December terrorist attack carried out by Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, who came to the U.S. on a fiance visa in 2014. The FBI later revealed that both Farook and Malik had become radicalized years before he brought her to the country.