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Good morning, everyone. Thank you all for attending this special and important event. It is my distinct honor to be with you today as we formally launch the DHS Center for Countering Human Trafficking.
I want to thank our distinguished guests for joining us to mark this historic occasion. I would also like to pay special recognition to two remarkable women joining us --Tanya Gould and Chulita Havill, both survivors of human trafficking you’ll have the opportunity to hear from today. Your courage is an inspiration to all of us. I commend each of you for telling your story and helping us put an end to this horrific crime.
Human trafficking is modern day slavery. There is no other way to say it.
The words are strong because the actions are evil.
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.
Since the founding of DHS 17 years ago, we’ve been involved in fighting this scourge. But too often, these efforts, though well intentioned, were fragmented across the Department.
This Administration is putting an end to that. We are gathered here today to say—no more.
No more to the sexual exploitation of vulnerable women and children.
No more to the victimization of innocent people through forced labor.
No more to the gross abuse of human rights and dignity resulting from this despicable crime.
The launch of the DHS Center for Countering Human Trafficking represents the investment of resources, attention, and time by this Administration to combat and dismantle all forms of human trafficking.
In January, this Administration took two important steps toward this goal. First, I announced the Department’s intention to create this Center during the event to release the DHS Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking, the Importation of Goods Produced with Forced Labor, and Child Sexual Exploitation.
Shortly thereafter, President Trump established government-wide efforts through his Executive Order on Combatting Human Trafficking and Online Child Exploitation in the United States, which called on government to “vigorously prosecute offenders, to assist victims, and to provide prevention education.”
Those are the aims of this Center. Led by ICE HSI, with staff, expertise, and legal authorities gathered from components across the DHS enterprise to include: Customs and Border Protection, the Blue Campaign, Coast Guard, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Transportation Security Administration. This integrated Center will be the first of its kind.
By aggregating these resources, the Center will serve as the central hub for victim support, investigative operations, intelligence and data collection and analysis, and training and outreach for law enforcement partners, civil society, and the public.
While previous federal government ventures have been unsuccessful, I am confident this new initiative has the right tools, personnel, and partnerships to effectively battle this menace.
When addressing any problem—particularly one of this magnitude and detriment—it is critical for the public to understand it. There are two predominant forms of human trafficking—sex trafficking and forced labor. Both involve the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of commercial sex act or labor from a victim.
The word “trafficking” often leads to the misconception that this activity requires crossing an international or state border. It does not. Most ICE HSI investigations involve human trafficking that is entirely domestic, with most victims being U.S. citizens.
Leveraging years of experience in combating these crimes, ICE HSI employs a victim-centered approach, placing equal value on the identification and stabilization of victims, as well as on the investigation and prosecution of human traffickers and child sex offenders.
This sort of victim centric approach to safety and justice is part of the very DNA of DHS. While counter-terrorism efforts are top of mind for many folks when they think of DHS, this Department does so much more. Each and every day, men and women within DHS are seeking to investigate and prosecute those who violate the human rights of vulnerable individuals trapped in the cycles of exploitation. DHS personnel’s steadfast commitment to safety, dignity, and justice cannot and will not be forgotten.
As threats to the homeland shift and evolve, the tools and actions of our Department must evolve, too. Human trafficking is one of the greatest human rights abuses of our time—and we will not stop fighting to eradicate it until every person is safe and free.
This new Center unites DHS’ existing efforts focused on this issue, including:
- Investigative operations;
- Interdiction of goods produced with forced labor;
- Enforcing government procurement regulations;
- Victim assistance and protection;
- Intelligence to support investigations;
- Outreach to law enforcement, the private sector, and NGOs;
- Partnerships with survivors, victim service providers, corporations, law enforcement, and other government agencies;
- Along with training on how to conduct investigations, maintain a victim-centered approach, recognize red flag indicators, and how and why to report suspicious or illicit activity to law enforcement.
I am proud to report sixteen DHS components and Headquarters Offices will be working in cooperation to pool our resources and staff the center.
The Center will monitor and support DHS counter-human-trafficking operations across the country and globally. The Center allows us to better investigate, interdict, and prosecute human trafficking crimes; identify and assist victims; and educate communities on prevention methods.
I am grateful to ICE Acting Director Tony Pham and HSI Executive Associate Director Derek Benner for spearheading the establishment and implementation of the Center.
As it’s being stood up, HSI’s Senior Executive Service Criminal Investigator Angie Salazar will be leading the Center. Angie has worked in the field, at headquarters, and overseas investigating human trafficking and supervising and developing related policy. Angie has dedicated her life to helping the survivors of this horrendous crime, and I believe there is no one better qualified to run the Center.
The staff members joining her include both law enforcement and non-law enforcement personnel who will support sex trafficking investigations, victim assistance, and outreach. While each of these members has a unique background and skill set, they are united in their passion for this tremendously important issue.
I commend each of these remarkable professionals. Thank you all for dedicating yourselves to this noble fight and continuing the pursuit of justice for the sake of survivors and prevention of any future victims of this terrible crime.
With the support of President Trump, the leadership of ICE, and cooperation across all of DHS, I firmly believe the Center’s work will play a critical role in one day bringing an end to human trafficking in America.
With that, let me welcome Dr. Julia Nesheiwat, the Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Homeland Security and Resilience at the National Security Council, who has played a critical role combatting the scourge that is human trafficking.