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Latin America
Women & Children at Risk
Title:  $450,000 Grant to Help Fight Human Trafficking
  [In the City of Phoenix, Arizona]
Publisher:  (c) 2004 Arizona Republic
Author:  Sergio Bustos
Publish Date:  2004-11-24

WASHINGTON - The Justice Department awarded Phoenix a $450,000 grant Tuesday to help local police combat human traffickers and assist their victims.

The money is part of a $7.6 million grant to help local communities nationwide combat human trafficking, a top law enforcement priority for the Bush administration.

Human trafficking, also described as human slavery, is a global problem, with an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people trafficked yearly across international borders. Victims typically are forced to work as prostitutes or housekeepers, or in sweatshops.

From 14,500 to 17,500 trafficking victims cross U.S. borders each year, according to Justice Department figures. No specific figures were available for Phoenix or Arizona.

Phoenix Police Department officials, who learned of the grant Tuesday, said they could not comment on how they will use the federal dollars.

Officers, however, face a difficult task in identifying victims of trafficking because tens of thousands of migrants voluntarily hire smugglers to sneak them into the United States at the Mexican border. Those migrants are not considered trafficking victims.

Justice Department officials said they are teaming up with local police, social-service agencies and other groups who work with victims to track and prosecute human traffickers.

"Local law enforcement and community-based organizations, particularly faith-based groups, are best situated to identify trafficking victims," Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said in a statement announcing the grants.

Last summer, President Bush called human trafficking "one of the worst offenses against human dignity." Bush spoke during a national conference that brought together federal, state and local authorities for the first time to address the issue.

Since 2001, federal authorities have charged 110 traffickers, triple the number charged from 1998 to 2001.

Federal officials have documented cases of girls from Ukraine, Mexico and several Asian countries who were brought into Illinois, Georgia and California to work in the sex industry. Most victims are teenagers, and some are as young as 12.