National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is January 11, 2010

Modern-day slavery takes place every day across the U.S., including the Bay area, in the form of human trafficking. It is not exclusive to impoverished, third-world countries. San Francisco, San Jose, and the communities in between include people living in modern-day slavery. The United States, including the Bay area, is a destination for thousands of people illegally trafficked into the U.S. from Mexico, East Asia, South Asia, Central America, Africa, and Europe. Trafficking includes prostitution, domestic servitude, and other forced labor. But it also includes people who we would not necessarily think are trafficking victims, such as nail salon workers, and live-in domestic help.

Raising awareness is key to combating human trafficking in the U.S. If we understand what trafficking looks like, we can report it to police or federal authorities. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) is the lead U.S. Federal agency for investigating and dismantling human trafficking organizations. Last year ICE launched their "Hidden in Plain Sight" billboard campaign in cities across the U.S. to educate Americans and to provide anonymous tip lines. During 2009 ICE initiated 566 human trafficking investigations, leading to 388 arrests, 148 indictments and 165 convictions. The ICE website includes examples of criminal prosecutions, such as the family convicted on multiple grounds for smuggling young African women into the U.S. , and forcing them to work in hair-braiding salons in the Newark, N.J., area. The women worked six to seven days a week, eight to 12 hours per day. They were not allowed to keep the money they earned. Some of the victims were also subjected to physical and sexual abuse, and were held in servitude for more than five years.

Since 2000, U.S. immigration law provides an avenue to legal immigration status for victims of trafficking. Most foreign trafficking victims are in the U.S. illegally, having been smuggled in or with false visas and passports. Trafficking victims may be eligible for a "T" nonimmigrant visa, and if they obtain a "T" visa they could ultimately apply for U.S. permanent residence. Eligibility requires showing that the applicant has been a victim of a severe form of trafficking, is physically present in the U.S. or at a port of entry on account of trafficking, has complied with any reasonable request for assistance in investigating or prosecuting trafficking, and would suffer extreme hardship if removed (deported) from the U.S.

Monday, January 11th will be National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and earlier this week President Obama proclaimed January 2010 to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In the Bay Area, the San Francisco Collaborative to End Human Trafficking will sponsor several events throughout January geared towards raising awareness and advocating for tougher laws. Follow the links below, and at a minimum increase your awareness of modern-day slavery in our own cities: U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 2009, Polaris Project .

by Michelle Gee