U.S. visas available for trafficking victims

Immigration law professor Julie Dinnerstein (l.-r.) and USCIS employees Lynn Boudreau, Scott Whelan and Andrea Quarantillo discuss at a forum avenues available to immigrants who are victims of sex trafficking and other crimes.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Long Island City hosted a forum Tuesday to get the word out about legal options for immigrants who have been victims of human trafficking, abuse or domestic violence.

“We know there are victims out there and there is help available,” said Andrea Quarantillo, district director of USCIS for New York City, at the office at 27-35 Jackson Ave.

Scott Whelan, of the USCIS’s office of policy and strategy, said there are three ways that can help immigrants who have been victimized.

First, T visas allow victims of all types of trafficking — forced labor, sexual or involuntary servitude — to stay and work in the United States on a temporary basis.

Whelan said many victims of this underground crime end up dead.

“Human trafficking is a brutal crime,” he said.

A U visa is available for victims of abuse and other crimes, Whelan said. Immigrants who suffer from domestic violence, both female and male, also can apply for legal status without having to go through their abusive spouse under the provisions of the Violence Against Women Act.



Human Trafficking Bill Advances

LINCOLN, Neb. — A measure that seeks to clamp down on human trafficking in Nebraska has won first-round legislative approval.

Lawmakers voted 36-0 Wednesday to advance the measure by Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill.

The bill would increase penalties for anyone convicted of pandering another person, require training for police officers and prosecutors who may encounter human trafficking victims, and create a task force to further study the problem. It also would require strip clubs and rest stops to post signs with the toll-free number of a human trafficking help center.

Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford says the proposal seeks to address a problem that has gone largely unnoticed in Nebraska.

Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial says the bill is a start, but lawmakers will need to do more in the future.


Authorities Detain 20 Suspected Illegal Immigrants in El Segundo

Federal agents and El Segundo police officers check a panga boat that washed ashore in El Segundo on Wednesday morning

Authorities detained 20 suspected illegal immigrants Wednesday after a smuggling boat washed ashore in El Segundo.

The small panga boat had departed from Tijuana and landed on the beach near the NRG power plant in El Segundo just before sunrise, said Lt. Raymond Garcia of the El Segundo Police Department. Police responded to a call at 6:45 a.m. that people were “running in all directions,” he said.

Local authorities detained 20 people and turned them over to federal immigration officials, Garcia said.

“They were all wet, cold, scared,” he said. “Some weird things wash up in our city but never a boat full of illegal immigrants.”

Panga boats are used by Mexican fishermen, as well as smugglers attempting to bring undocumented immigrants or drugs across the border.

As enforcement has tightened along the border since 2007, smugglers have increasingly turned to the ocean as a route. Although most of the boats have come ashore in northern San Diego County, others have been found along the beaches of Orange and Los Angeles counties.Driving it all are enormous profits. Smugglers charge immigrants as much as $6,000, and a boatload of 20 can bring more than $100,000.Federal immigration authorities said they have intercepted boats as far north as Santa Barbara County.

On Thursday, Petition Protesting Backpage.com Will Be Sent to Village Voice Media

More than 99,000 people have signed the petition calling on Village Voice Media to shut down the adult ads section of its subsidiary, Backpage.com, in order to end the advertising of sex with children on the site.

On Thursday, these tens of thousands of signatures will be delivered to Village Voice Media headquarters in New York by faith leaders, Change.org users and “Alissa” (whose story of forced prostitution when she was 16 was told by Nick Kristof in last Sunday’s New York Times).  Along with the signatures, they will bring 100 pairs of girl’s shoes, symbolizing all of the unseen victims of child sex trafficking in the United States.

Approach to prostitution in Montgomery County is changing

Vice detectives in Montgomery County don’t find women walking the streets selling sex. They have to dig deeper to combat prostitution and human trafficking.

The vice unit arrested three owners and operators of four massage parlors and spas in Rockville allegedly offering sexual favors to their clients. A fourth man who runs a fifth business also has been charged, but has eluded capture, police said. The arrests illustrate the need for vigilance on the part of vice detectives, said county vice Detective Thomas Stack.

“There’s a house fee for $60 or $80 and then, when [the clients] go into the back, they actually negotiate another price with the workers themselves,” Stack said of a common scheme employed by operators of massage parlors that offer sex.

Because the owners do not negotiate the sex, they often deny knowledge of the crime when approached by police, Stack said. The women working for the business receive most of their payment from “tips” generated by sex, he said.

In the Rockville busts, detectives began by approaching men leaving the businesses and asking them what services they paid for. The men who cooperated were not identified and no charges were made because detectives intend to use them as witnesses against the establishments, Stack said.

“In those cases our primary targets were the actual businesses themselves, so we were using the johns as a means to an end,” Stack said. “Generally, as far as prosecution is concerned, charging the johns as co-defendants in the case isn’t as beneficial as having them testify against the actual [business] itself.”


Twin Cities sex trafficking defendants face trial

Several mugshots from arrests of an alleged multi-state prostitution ring.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Jury selection began Tuesday in Nashville in the case of an alleged sex-trafficking ring with strong ties to the Twin Cities.

Fifteen defendants are facing federal trial. Back in November 2010, federal prosecutors in Tennessee indicted 29 people on charges of running a child-prostitution ring.

Most of the defendants are from Minnesota. Authorities say the trafficking operation was controlled by three Twin Cities gangs: the Somali Outlaws, the Somalia Mafia, and the Lady Outlaws. A 30th defendant was added to the case last year.

So far, not a single defendant has pleaded guilty.

The sheer scope of the case is unusual and the trial could last two to three months. The remaining 15 defendants will be tried later.

The government says the gangs recruited Twin Cities girls to have sex in exchange for cash, marijuana and booze, and that the victims were as young as 12. But at least one defense attorney is challenging the age of one victim, saying her birth certificate was forged and that there is no true record of her birth.

15-year-old girl escapes from child sex trafficking syndicate

A 15-year-old Malaysian girl, who has been missing for over a month after being abducted by an international child sex trafficking syndicate, has escaped from her captors in Thailand.

Selangor Criminal Investigation Department (CID) chief Senior Assistant Commissioner (SAC) Mohd Adnan Abdullah said the teenager managed to make a bid for her freedom with five other girls from Myanmar, all of whom were found by the Thai police at the Hua Lampong train station in Bangkok on March 11.

Sources said the girl had told officials from the Thai police that she was a Malaysian.

As she did not possess any identification documents, they had to check with the Malaysian Embassy, which then confirmed that she was reported missing in Malaysia.

Fort Worth man gets 30 years in prostitution case

A 36-year-old Fort Worth man was sentenced Monday to 30 years in federal prison followed by 30 years of supervised release for sex-trafficking and prostitution-related felonies, according to a Justice Department news release.

Marcus Choice Williams pleaded guilty in March 2011 to one count of conspiracy to transport individuals for prostitution; six counts of transporting individuals for prostitution; one count of sex trafficking by force, fraud or coercion; two counts of attempted sex trafficking by force; and one count of money laundering.

Co-defendants Kenya Thomas, 32, of Plano, and Preston Petitt, 45, of Houston, were sentenced to 37 months in prison and two years supervised, according to the news release.

According to prosecutors, Williams operated an interstate prostitution ring, including adult escort web sites, headquartered in the Metroplex and operating in the Boston and Washington, D.C., metro areas.

Williams recruited vulnerable women, specifically single mothers from troubled backgrounds, the release stated.

Largest trafficking bust rescues 41 women

A joint operation by police in Macau and Liaoning and Guangdong provinces has busted a ring of 30 suspects involved in abducting women and forcing them into prostitution, said a statement released by China’s Ministry of Public Security on Friday.

The swoop, which took place on March 11, also saw 41 women rescued from danger, according to the statement quoted by state news agency Xinhua.

More than 20 women being exploited for prostitution were released from captivity in Macau alone and seven suspects were arrested for allegedly inciting prostitution, the Chinese-language TDM channel reported. This is the largest human trafficking case registered in the territory since a law aimed at tackling this phenomenon came into effect on June 2008. That bill now covers forced labour and organ trafficking, as well as increases the maximum jail term for human trafficking to 20 years.

Police in the city of Donggang in Liaoning province received a tip-off on March 5 that more than 20 women had been abducted and taken to the MSAR to engage in prostitution. Under the command of the ministry, police in Donggang and Zhuhai immediately set up a special task force to investigate. Guns, bullets and knives were confiscated from the suspects.

A police chief said the ring was “tightly organized” with a clear distribution of work and a complete network. Suspects lured women and young girls in Dandong prefecture and took them to Macau after promising sightseeing and high-salary jobs. Once they arrived in the city, however, these women were forced into prostitution, the police chief said.

The investigation of the case is continuing.

Last January local association Good Shepherd Sisters warned that “Macau is believed to be a destination for the trafficking of women and girls from the Chinese mainland, Mongolia, Russia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, and Central Asia, for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation”.

And last October the University of Macau released a report on human trafficking commissioned by the Human Trafficking Deterrent Measures Concern Committee, which confirmed that most of the victims were women from small towns in mainland China who were tricked or coerced into sexual exploitation.

In the latest edition of its Trafficking in Persons Report, released in June 2011, the US Department of State said Macau “continues to lack sufficient judicial resources to investigate and prosecute a significant number of trafficking cases”.

SeaTac man sentenced to 15 years for sex trafficking

A SeaTac man was sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 15 years in prison and 15 years of supervised release for sex trafficking through force, fraud and coercion.

Ronnie Leon Tramble, 29, will also have to pay restitution to five women he forced to work as prostitutes, according to a media release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The amount of restitution will be determined at a later hearing.

Tramble first came to the attention of law enforcement in 2010 when Kent Police officers encountered a juvenile female working as a prostitute. The girl told police how Tramble beat and coerced her, and how he advertised her as a prostitute on Backpage.com.

“So many of these victims were juveniles and vulnerable,” U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour said at the sentencing.

U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan promised to keep going after criminals similar to Tramble.

“Sex trafficking is a horrific crime, that often preys upon our most vulnerable citizens: young children and teens,” Durkan said. “We will continue to target people like Ronnie Tramble who victimize our youth. Our community is safer with this defendant off the streets.”

According to court records, Tramble coerced or forced more than five different women to work for him as prostitutes. Some of these victims were under the age of 18. The plea agreement details how Tramble recruited one victim, and forced her to work as a prostitute with threats and violence.

Tramble repeatedly beat the victim, and forced her to give her prostitution earnings to him. Tramble was charged federally in August 2011.

After Kent Police initiated the case, further investigation by law enforcement revealed that for more than five years, Tramble forced numerous women to work for him as prostitutes. He has a prior Washington State conviction for promoting prostitution.