Human Trafficking Campaigns Launched
Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna was in Chicago where he was named the new president of the National Association of Attorneys General. As is their tradition, when in that position, McKenna picked an issue he wanted states to pull together to battle. His is human trafficking.
McKenna: "It is aptly referred to as modern day slavery: The selling of another person's body through the use of force, fear or coercion."
McKenna says law enforcement needs better data collection to identify victims and that more traffickers need to be prosecuted. The victims could be foreigners or American citizens.
Last November, Washington state launched a poster campaign to reach out directly to human trafficking victims. It let them know about a hotline to call if they need help. McKenna said the posters are necessary because victims are difficult to reach, they don't have access to people who can help them.
McKenna: "If they're being used in illegal activities — they're being prostituted, they're being forced to participate in an indoor pot grow, they're being told, hey, if you get caught you'll be charged with a felony. And they're terrified."
McKenna recently announced his bid for governor of Washington. Meanwhile, in Seattle, federal immigration services officials rolled out a different, new campaign to educate law enforcement, advocacy groups and the public. Their end goal was the same: Get the message to human trafficking victims that there's help.
Karen Fitzgerald is acting deputy director of the USCIS office in Vermont. That's the office that determines who can qualify for special human trafficking visas. She says Congress has allocated 5,000 of these visas a year. But the US is only giving out about 500 nationwide. She believes many more could benefit from the special visa.
Fitzgerald: "We don't know why people aren't coming forward, but we know we have to do what we can within our power to get the information out there."
USCIS in Seattle hosts a training this week for law enforcement and community–based organizations, including immigrants rights groups.
I'm Sara Lerner, KUOW News.
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