Human Trafficking on Long Island, NY
May 17, 2007
Human trafficking has become so rampant on Long Island that three years ago the US Justice Department set up a task force to focus on the problem.
The Long Island Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force is one of 42 such federally funded groups around the country, said Andrea Bertone, director of HumanTrafficking.org, a project of the Academy for Educational Development in Washington, D.C. which focuses on anti-trafficking measures.
The Long Island group was born in the fall of 2004, just months after the arrests of a couple on Long Island in what was then considered one of the largest human-trafficking cases in the country. The task force includes agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Nassau Police.
Mariluz Zavala and her husband, Jose Ibanez, later pleaded guilty to smuggling 69 fellow Peruvian immigrants and enslaving them in Amityville, Brentwood and Coram. Both are in prison; Zavala was given 15 years, even longer than prosecutors asked for.
The victims said Zavala and her husband held them as virtual slaves. They had to hand over their paychecks in return for meager rations. The task force is a federally funded program that includes federal agencies, state and local law enforcement, and community groups such as Catholic Charities, which works with the victims.
"It's a priority with the Department of Justice to combat this," said Robert Nardoza, a spokesman in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District, which includes Long Island and Queens. Long Island's high immigrant population makes it vulnerable to human trafficking, some experts said. "In just about any place in the U.S. with low-wage immigrant workers there is a chance that you are going to have trafficking," said Juhu Thukral, director of the Sex Workers Project, a program of the Urban Justice Center in Manhattan that helps immigrants who are trafficked for prostitution.
Cheap labor is one of the biggest aspects of human trafficking, she said, and many cases involve domestic workers. In some ways the forced domestic work is more dangerous, Thukral said. "They [the employers] don't respect you," she said. "That leaves you open for abuses."
Adapted from: Carrie Mason-Draffen. "Target of federal task force." Newsday. 16 May 2007.