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Feds ask public to report human trafficking

Officials with the New York Field Office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Tuesday called on the public to report cases of human trafficking as the agency sought to emphasize its efforts in fighting immigrant exploitation.

Immigration enforcement officials are part of a national effort to bring awareness to the trafficking and enslavement of immigrants, following a Dec. 30 proclamation from President Barack Obama affirming the country’s role in “working to protect victims of human trafficking with effective services and support” while pursuing traffickers “through consistent enforcement.”

The investigation and prosecution of such cases has risen nationally, from 388 arrests in 2009 to 938 arrests in 2011.

One Long Island case uncovered last year involved undocumented female emigrants from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador who were coerced to engage in prostitution by three captors associated with bars in Lake Ronkonkoma and Farmingdale. Three men were convicted in May of numerous counts of sexual trafficking, forced labor and immigration violations.

James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge with the agency’s Homeland Security Investigation in Manhattan, said the victims tend to be poor women, brought into the country under false pretenses. He said the agency not only pursues immigrant exploiters but provides housing, counseling and protection for victims.

“We want to know where there is a concern so that we can go ahead and take a look,” Hayes said. “If there’s a victim we can step in and intercede” to ensure that they can “build a life, here in the United States, free of fear and intimidation.”

Hayes said emergency situations should be reported through the 911 system, but callers also can offer tips on possible human trafficking situations through the agency’s command center at 866-DHS-2ICE.

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