Criminal organizations worldwide are making $9.5 billion a year smuggling foreign nationals, illicit drugs and weapons into the United States, including as many as 17,500 people who are forced each year to work as prostitutes, sex slaves, sweatshop laborers and domestic servants, federal authorities said yesterday.
John P. Torres, deputy assistant director for smuggling and public safety at the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), told the House Judiciary subcommittee on immigration, border security and claims that human smuggling and trafficking into the United States constituted a "significant risk to national security and public safety."
Mr. Torres said well-established smuggling and trafficking pipelines serve as a conduit for illegal aliens and criminals seeking entry to this country, many of whom easily could have been "exploited by terrorist and extremist organizations" looking to carry out violent acts.
"The United States is a primary target destination for smugglers and traffickers, which means that literally tens of thousands of men, women and children are entering this nation illegally each year - undocumented, undetected and unprotected," he said.
Mr. Torres said untraced profits feed organized-crime activities, undermining governmental action and the rule of law, while allowing criminal networks to "grow stronger, more resilient and more dangerous."
He said many of the criminal enterprises show "a shockingly callous disregard for the lives in their charge," noting that often, illegal aliens seeking to flee poverty or abuse in their countries are forced to travel in squalid conditions without adequate food, water or air. He said that many frequently are subjected to brutal violence, forced labor and sexual exploitation and that several have died.
Mr. Torres said a "disturbingly large number" of smuggling and trafficking cases center on women and children forced into prostitution and sexual slavery. In virtually all of these cases, he said, the victims have been promised jobs, marriages or other new opportunities, only to find themselves trapped in "a web of exploitation and abuse."
He explained to the subcommittee that human trafficking differed from human smuggling in that it involved force, fraud or coercion and occurred for the purpose of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. Human-smuggling organizations, he said, typically generate short-term profits based on smuggled aliens.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department said in a report released to Congress yesterday that from 14,500 to 17,500 people brought illegally each year into the United States are trapped into working as prostitutes, sex slaves, sweatshop laborers or domestic servants.
Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta, who heads the department's civil rights division, said prosecutors hope to focus additional manpower and resources in the coming months on selected cities and to join forces with state and local police to target those involved in human trafficking.
The first cities to be targeted are Philadelphia, Phoenix, Atlanta and Tampa, Fla.
The Justice Department report said about two-thirds of the trafficking cases involved prostitution or sexual slavery, with most of the rest centering on forced labor. The report also noted that more than $8 million in Health and Human Services Department grants had been awarded to provide victims services such as temporary housing, transportation, legal assistance and education.