As many as 17,000 people each year are brought to the U.S. by human traffickers who trap them in slavery-like conditions for forced sex, sweatshop labor, and domestic servitude, the Justice Department said yesterday, according to the Associated Press. In congressional testimony, a top U.S. Homeland Security Department official estimated that human smuggling and trafficking generate $9.5 billion each year for criminal organizations that also deal in illicit drugs, weapons, and money laundering.
A 2000 federal law created a range of crimes prosecutors could use to charge human traffickers. The Justice Department as of last month had 153 open investigations, double the number at the same point in 2001. From 2001 to 2003, prosecutors charged 110 individuals in trafficking cases and won 78 convictions or guilty pleas, a 50 percent increase over the previous three years