DHS Creates Center to ‘Combat and Dismantle’ Human Trafficking

October 21, 2020 Updated: October 21, 2020

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced the opening of its Washington-based Center for Countering Human Trafficking, calling it the first operations center of its kind supporting federal criminal investigations in the United States.

The DHS said in a statement on Oct. 20 that the initiative is part of a government commitment to combat human trafficking, an issue that President Donald Trump has made a hallmark of his administration.

Sex and labor trafficking victimize almost 25 million people worldwide, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2019 “Trafficking in Persons” report (pdf).

“Proud to announce the opening of the DHS Center for Countering Human Trafficking,” Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf wrote on Twitter. “One of the many steps the Trump administration has taken to combat and dismantle all forms of human trafficking.”

The new facility represents “the investment of resources, attention, and time by this administration,” Wolf said.

“Human trafficking is modern day slavery. There is no other way to say it. The words are strong because the actions are evil,” Wolf said. “The forms of exploitation, sex trafficking, forced labor, and domestic servitude that constitute human trafficking are antithetical in every way to the principles of human dignity that Americans hold dear.”

Forced labor and human trafficking is estimated to be a $150 billion industry worldwide, according to the U.N.’s International Labour Organization.

Wolf says the center, led by ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), will serve as the central hub to support victims of human trafficking, investigative operations, intelligence and data collection and analysis, and training and outreach for law enforcement partners, civil society, and the public.

It will monitor and support DHS counter-human trafficking operations both in the United States and globally, he said.

He noted that the majority of ICE HSI human trafficking investigations have been domestic, with the majority of victims being U.S. citizens.

About 1 in 800 people in the United States are living in “modern slavery,” according to 2018 data by the Walk Free Foundation. The phrase is a broad term used to describe victims of forced labor, sexual exploitation or servitude, and forced marriages, among numerous other abuses.

“Human trafficking, whether through sex or labor, is a detriment to our society and threatens the moral conscience of our nation. Criminal organizations target those who are most vulnerable and exploit them through any means necessary, victims are treated as commodities rather than human beings, with no regard for their health and well-being,” said Tony Pham, the senior official performing the duties of director at ICE.

“ICE, along with our internal and external partners, will continue to fight against these atrocities and answer victims’ cries for help. The Center for Countering Human Trafficking will serve as evidence that when we work collectively against such heinous acts, we combat the threat they pose to national security and to public safety,” Pham added.

The founding of the center comes just weeks after the Trump administration said it awarded more than $100 million in grants to fund services and programs that combat human trafficking and provide assistance to victims across the United States.

The Justice Department (DOJ) grants were announced by Attorney General William Barr and the president’s daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump during a roundtable discussion in Atlanta last month. The funds are being steered to state, local, and tribal jurisdictions, victim service providers, and task forces across the country, and will be used to support key research initiatives on human trafficking.

Since taking office, Trump has made fighting human trafficking a top priority of his administration. He signed an executive order in January focused on eliminating human trafficking and online child exploitation in the United States, which requires resources to be directed in ways that would result in the prosecution of offenders, assist victims, and expand prevention education programs.

The president also has signed nine pieces of legislation into law to help take on human trafficking.

His administration has also taken multiple crucial steps to tackle the issue. In a proclamation issued in January, the president noted that the multi-agency Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team initiative had more than doubled its convictions of human traffickers in its targeted districts.

“We renew our resolve to redouble our efforts to deliver justice to all who contribute to the cruelty of human trafficking, and will tenaciously pursue the promise of freedom for all victims of this terrible crime,” Trump said in a statement on Oct. 20.

Janita Kan contributed to this report.