FCAHT Celebrates 13 years!

 

It’s hard to believe that 13 years ago this month, the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking opened its doors to survivors of human trafficking. FCAHT was one of the first organizations within the state of Florida to address the issue of modern day slavery. Our mission is to improve and provide outreach and services to victims of human trafficking throughout the State of Florida by developing support programs, networking, coalition building, training, service delivery, and referrals to victims in need. As I sit here and look back at the last 13 years, I recall some of our agencies accomplishments, it amazes me as to how much one group of anti-human trafficking advocates can accomplish. In honor of FCAHT’s 13 years, I have decided to share with you 13 accomplishments.

  1. Tecum Case- This was the first case that I worked on. I discovered a 19-year-old female from Guatemala while working what was initially reported as a domestic violence dispute. This case was discovered in January of 1999. Not only is the Tecum case considered a landmark case, but it was one of the 3 cases presented to the US Congress to urge them to pass the TVPA.
  2. TVPA- The Trafficking Victims Protection Act 2000 was the very first law passed in the United States that not only defined the crime of human trafficking but it laid a foundation for the anti-human trafficking movement. I am honored to know that the Tecum case and my experience were used in passing this landmark law.
  3. Trafficking Visa (T Visa) – On January 23, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft signed the Trafficking Visa into existence. The very first recipient of a T visa was the survivor of the Tecum case. I remember standing by her as Attorney General Ashcroft gave her the pen that he used to sign the T Visa all while stating “With this pen, I have just signed your freedom. Welcome to the United States.”
  4. The passing of Florida’s Anti Human Trafficking bill 787.05. Not only did the state of Florida pass their own anti human trafficking law in July 2004, but the bill number was identified with my former ID number given to me while working with the Collier County Sheriff’s office. This was done to recognize the work that I had done on the issue of human trafficking from 1999- 2004.
  5. On July 16, 2004, Former President George W. Bush honored the work that I had done during the very first anti human trafficking summit every held within the United States. The conference was hosted in Tampa.
  6. The creation of first DOJ Anti Human Trafficking working group for the state of Florida. I was honored to have been appointed by Assistant US Attorney Paul Perez to serve as a part of Florida’s first task force, which began in 2004.
  7. In 2005, I assisted the Department of Health and Human Services in identifying, creating and providing funding 5 Rescue and Restore Coalitions within the state of Florida. This led to training and providing technical support to other agencies within Florida.
  8. Collaborating with the United States State Department and the Organization of American States to providing training and technical support in 34 countries.
  9. Assisting various Central American countries in writing and passing their first anti human trafficking laws. The first country that I assisted in 2005 was Argentina.
  10. Receiving recognition from local, state, federal and international agencies on the advocacy and assistance that our agency has provided in the last 13 years. We have also been recognized for our anti sex trafficking PSA’s.
  11. Governor Rick Scott inducted me into FL Women’s Hall of Fame in 2011. It was an honor be included in the shaping of women’s history within our great state.
  12. Creating and collaborating with KlassKids Foundation and Local and Federal law enforcement agencies during the very first Superbowl 43 Street Outreach in 2009. Our work continued through Superbowl 47, which was held in New Orleans in 2013.
  13. Serving 1, 346 survivors of domestic servitude, labor trafficking and sex trafficking. This has been the greatest honor and one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

During the last 13 years, I have had an amazing support system, from my family to our staff to the community itself. I know that without the support of my family, team and community, many of these accomplishments may have never occurred. And for this I would like to thank each and every person that has support FCAHT and the work that we continue to do. My hope that I can continue to count on your support. At this time, I ask that you help us celebrate FCHAT’s 13 years by donating $13, $1 per year. With your contribution of 13 dollars, we can continue to make a difference in within the anti-human trafficking movement.

 

Until everyone is Free,

 Anna Rodriguez

FCAHT Founder/CEO

 

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Human Rights Crusader

Anna I. Rodriguez of Bonita Springs is considered by many to be an indomitable force in the global fight against human trafficking. A native of Puerto Rico, she immigrated to Miami in late 1974. She is the founder and Executive Director of the Florida Coalition against Human Trafficking, an organization whose mission is to eradicate human trafficking locally, nationally, and internationally. Ms. Rodriguez works tirelessly to raise the consciousness of communities and professionals throughout Florida in an effort to inspire others to join the fight to combat human trafficking. She also serves as an international liaison between the U.S. Department of State and has been asked to meet with and provide valuable information to visitors from Uzbekistan, India, United Arab, Germany, Russia, Italy, UK, Haiti and other countries. Ms. Rodriguez also serves as a trainer for the Organization of American States and has conducted trainings in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean since 2006. On July 16, 2004, Ms. Rodriguez was publicly recognized by President George W. Bush for her dedication to rescue human trafficking victims. U.S. Congressman Mario Diaz Balart presented Ms. Rodriguez with an American flag flown from the U.S. Capitol in recognition of her efforts. She was also recognized by Congresswoman Stella Marie Cordoba on behalf of the Congress of Argentina for her support and assistance in the creation of Argentina’s human trafficking law. Ms. Rodriguez’s passion continues to inspire others to become bridge builders uniting to rescue victims of human trafficking, the “invisible slaves of the 21st century”.
 
Please help Anna by voting for her: http://humanrightsaward.strutta.com/entry/153044?=f1otjs
 
Thank you for your contiued support!

Modern-day slaves’ story repeats daily in plain sight

The case of dozens of Filipino workers held captive spotlights a widespread human- trafficking problem.

BY AUDRA D.S. BURCH

aburch@MiamiHerald.com

For up to 16 hours daily, they worked at posh country clubs across South Florida, then returned to deceptively quiet houses in Boca Raton where they were captives — and in the most dreadful cases, fed rotten chicken and vegetables, forced to drink muriatic acid and repeatedly denied medical help.

The 39 servers, lured to the United States by the cliché of a decent dollar and a promising next chapter, instead became imported modern-day slaves two continents away from their homeland. Their story repeats in plain sight most every day in South Florida: barely paid — or unpaid — people forced to toil in fields, work as domestics in hotels and restaurants or in the sex industry, an outsized regional problem authorities are emphasizing in January, Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

“This is organized crime where humans are used as products. We are talking about selling a person over and over and making large sums of money,” says Carmen Pino, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations Assistant Special Agent in Charge. “What people need to realize is that human trafficking is happening here, it’s a big problem. It could be happening in the restaurant where you eat, at your nail salon, in your neighborhood. It’s not just something that happens in foreign countries.”

While difficult to pluck the numbers from a landscape of silence and fear, federal, state and local authorities know South Florida is among the nation’s three top capitals of human trafficking, a $36 billion industry defined as the recruitment and harboring of a person for labor or services through force, fraud or coercion.

South Florida’s mix of cosmopolitan lifestyles, rural landscapes and tourism makes it a natural entry point for human traffickers. To fight the rising statistics and heighten awareness, a coalition of law enforcement and government agencies formed the South Florida Human Trafficking Task Force in 2008, charged with monitoring a wide swath of the state, from Key West to Fort Pierce.

That year, ICE initiated 432 investigations resulting in 126 convictions on human trafficking charges. In 2009, the number of investigations jumped to 566 and 165 convictions.

The task force also partners with social-service agencies and churches for outreach and to help rescued victims find housing and build new, legitimate lives in America.

ICE gives temporary legal immigration status — called Continued Presence, typically for one year — to victims of trafficking. They can receive work permits and other benefits and eventually can apply for a visa. In 2009, ICE authorized 447 CP requests and extensions.

Two years ago, the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition was launched to raise awareness and also to help social organizations on the front lines to recognize the warning signs. “One of the largest hurdles we are facing is getting people to see it,” says President Adriane Reesey. “We’ve done training sessions with homeowner organizations, webinars and gone to the churches.”

In the latest case, Alfonso Baldonado Jr. and his wife, Sophia Manuel, owners of Quality Staffing Services, were behind an elaborate plot to bring Filipino nationals to South Florida, then pressure them into slave labor at local country clubs and hotels including Indian Creek Country Club, Miami Shores Country Club and nine others in Palm Beach County. Federal officials say the clubs were not aware of the illegal scheme.

Manuel was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison; Baldonado received a 51-month sentence. She also was sentenced for visa fraud and making false statements to the government to procure foreign labor certifications and visas.

“Human traffickers target vulnerable victims, including minors, who desire a better life and end up being lured into a situation where they are deprived of their basic human rights,” ICE Director John Morton said just after sentencing.

It was a frantic call to a hotline about a “hostage” situation at a Boca Raton home — Filipino workers held against their will — that launched the probe. A familiar story of the tainted American Dream soon emerged.

In July 2006, Manuel held a recruiting meeting in the Philippines to a captive audience of workers who had responded to newspaper advertisements and word-of-mouth. She collected a $1,500 job security deposit from each of the 36 applicants. No jobs were delivered or refunds given for the deposits. The following year, the couple returned to a group that included some of the 2006 applicants, this time with the promise of jobs that would pay $1,400 monthly for up to three years. They each paid $4,000 in up-front fees.

Neither the promised jobs nor the salary ever materialized.

For nearly two years, the victims were squeezed into several Boca Raton homes. The couple, also of Filipino origin, ruled by the victims’ palpable fear of arrest or deportation if they tried to escape. Their passports were taken and they were isolated. They worked exhausting hours seven days a week. At home, some slept on the floor. They were given water and fed a “diet of rotten vegetables, chicken innards and feet,” according to the indictment.

“On the outside, the houses blended into a typical suburban subdivision,” Pino says. “Inside, it was crowded and absolutely disgusting, substandard squalid conditions.”

And when one worker complained that the drinking water was bad, the couple provided toxic acid instead.

The workers were often denied timely medical care. A worker who broke his wrist wasn’t allowed to see a doctor for 10 days. Another worker suffering from stomach pain and spitting up blood wasn’t allowed to see a doctor.

On Sundays, they were herded into a van and taken to a nearby church, but forbidden from speaking to other Filipinos.

The couple contracted with 11 South Florida country clubs and resorts, providing staff of servers mostly, for seasonal or supplemental work. Federal authorities say the businesses were not complicit.

The Miami Shores Country Club used Quality Staffing for less than a year beginning in November 2007 for a total of 239 hours. “We were absolutely not aware of the situation with these workers who we used for banquets,” said Alberto Pozzi, general manager of the Miami Shores Country Club. “The company came highly recommended from other clubs. The company [owners] told us they would be providing a qualified staff that had been trained on cruise ships.”

Indian Creek began contracting with Quality in the fall of 2007 to help with events during the winter season. “At one event, almost all of the temporary wait staff was a `no show.’ When we inquired why, we weren’t satisfied with the answer, and we terminated the relationship immediately,” General Manager Michael Yurick said in an e-mail response. “Subsequently, we learned from a federal investigation that the agency was treating its employees in an inappropriate and illegal manner. We worked closely with the Federal investigators, and helped them in their investigation. ”

With the help of a network of social agencies, those workers have settled in South Florida in new homes, with new jobs.

As a victim specialist for the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking for two years, Martha Mino worked with some of the rescued Filipino victims, along with others from Mexico and Honduras.

“They were very still traumatized, very scared and mistrusting,” says Mino, now working at the Mexican Consulate.

“They were too scared to ask for their most basic needs. They were still learning that they are human beings that deserve to be treated properly. For them, they are starting over
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/01/23/2030710_p2/modern-day-slaves-story-repeats.html#ixzz1BycSHNWA

Day 3

We are on Day 3 of the 12 Days of Freedom! Day 3 encourages us all to attend an anti-trafficking awareness event. Learn more about the issue of human trafficking. Encourage others to attend as well.

Please visit our website for more information on all of the events that we have planned. Also visit some of the other anti trafficking organizations around the state of Florida and see what events they will be hosting locally.

Not for Sale 2

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

We would like to announce that we at Knightsquest Media have just completed a new film that features The Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking.

The film “Not for Sale-2” will air nationally March 10 @ 9 p.m. on NRB Network.

For more information about this 30 minute film please visit the website.

notforsalefilm.com

Robert Marcarelli

2 Pinoys sentenced for forced labo

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North American News Bureau
Posted at 12/11/2010 10:48 AM | Updated as of 12/11/2010 10:48 AM

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida – Two Filipinos found guilty of victimizing 39 Filipino guest workers were sentenced to prison.

Sophia Manuel, 41, alleged mastermind of the human trafficking operation, was sentenced to 78 months in prison. Alfonso Baldonado, 45, received a 51-month prison sentence.

Manuel and Baldonando own Quality Staffing Corporation Services that obtained cheap labor by making false promises to entice Filipinos to come to the US as guest workers

Their 39 victims were Filipinos who paid up to $5,000 in recruitment and placement fees for jobs in the US. Many ended up jobless in Florida and buried in debt in the Philippines

Other victims were forced to provide cheap labor and services to some hotels and resorts in south Florida.

The victims said they were repeatedly threatened with arrest and deportation if they failed to perform their jobs.

One of the plaintiffs, said Manuel and Baldonado have victimized more people.

“They should receive the maximum prison sentence because there are other victims who have not yet stepped forward to complain against them,” he said.

Fil-Am lawyer Marissa De Guzman-Cobb, former Assistant Attorney General in the State of Florida, assisted the Filipino victims in prosecuting the defendants.

“It is my belief that justice was served. The judge was well within his discretion to exact the sentence that he did. I think he found the statements by the Filipino victims extremely compelling,” De Guzman-Cobb said. Balitang America

27 people found in human trafficking raids in Largo, Clearwater

LARGO — The two white vans would pull up to the nondescript beige duplex on the dead-end street early in the morning.

At the honk of a horn, a dozen or more Hispanic and Asian men and women would come out of the home and pile into the vans.

Neighbors wouldn’t see them again until late at night or early the next morning when the vans reappeared to drop them off.

“That’s seven days a week,” said 67-year-old Sylvia Leuci, a home health nurse who works at a home across the street.

Just a few miles away in Clearwater, a similar scene was unfolding each day at a one-story tan home with a single-car garage and an overgrown lawn.

On Wednesday, the FBI and local law enforcement officers raided both homes and a Chinese restaurant on East Bay Drive as part of an investigation into human trafficking.

In all, authorities found 27 people living in the two homes at 2820 Oaklawn Ave. in Largo and 2401 Havana Drive in Clearwater.

Investigators are looking at the possibility that the people were being forced to work at the Country Super Buffet at 5010 East Bay Drive, said special agent Dave Couvertier, a spokesman for the Tampa field office of the FBI.

No arrests were made, he said, but the investigation is ongoing.

Corporate filings with the state list the registered agent of the business as Jian Hui Wang, who also was renting the Largo home.

The people found at the homes are being treated as victims and were being interviewed Wednesday to determine the circumstances of their status in the United States, investigators said. Most are Hispanic and Asian, and all appear to be adults, Couvertier said.

The Salvation Army and World Relief are working to assist the people with housing, food and clothing, Couvertier said.

At the Largo address, 19 people were found.

“We noticed these big vans coming and going with all of these people,” said next-door neighbor Michelle Kramer. “They leave early in the morning and don’t get back until late at night, like midnight, sometimes 1 (a.m.).”

Kramer said “tons of people” lived at the home and they rarely communicated with neighbors. There are three bedrooms in each of the two units, she said.

Mike Modha, 45, of Lutz said the home belongs to his business partner, Akshay Patel. Modha, a Realtor, said Patel left him in charge of the property when he went to England to seek treatment for health problems more than 18 months ago.

Modha said he rented the duplex in January to Wang, whom he knew as Kenny. The rent is $1,300 and the lease says that six people can stay in each unit.

On the lease, Wang listed his employer as Royal Buffet at 9550 U.S. 19. in Port Richey. Modha said Wang told him he would use one duplex for himself and another for restaurant workers.

Except for one month, Wang always paid the rent on time Modha said.

“If they broke the law, they should be punished,” said Modha, himself an immigrant who came from Gujarat, India, 12 years ago.

In September, he and his wife became U.S. citizens.

At the Clearwater address, eight people were found.

Neighbors said the residents, who appeared to be Asian, had lived there since summer. Emily DeGarmo, 22, who lives across the street, said “they had a lot of people coming in and out.”

The home’s owner could not be reached for comment.

Early Wednesday afternoon, more than a dozen FBI agents, Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies and other authorities were going in and out of the house. They carried items in brown paper evidence bags and in black and yellow bins.

“This specific situation should serve as what I refer to as a wake-up call to the folks in our local community,” Couvertier said. “It can happen anywhere. It’s not limited to this area.”

Human trafficking is a worldwide problem that usually takes the form of forced labor, domestic servitude or forced prostitution, the most common of the three. In the United States, it’s estimated that anywhere from a couple of thousand to several thousand people a year are victims of human trafficking, Couvertier said.

According to a 2009 draft of a report by the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights at Florida State University, labor trafficking is the most prevalent type of human trafficking in Florida.

A finalized 2010 version of the report, commissioned by the state Legislature, notes that Florida was the third-leading state, with 296 calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline in 2009.

Between May 2009 and June 2010, the state Department of Children and Families received reports of 156 trafficking incidents through its hotline. Of those, 22 cases were verified as trafficking, the report said.

Worldwide, 49,105 victims were identified in 2009, according to the 2010 Trafficking in Persons report published by the U.S. Department of State.

Officers with the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking said their investigation began several months ago with a tip from a source they declined to identify. During the investigation, they were able to gain intelligence that led to Wednesday’s search warrants.

Couvertier and Clearwater police spokeswoman Beth Watts said it’s important for people to be aware of what’s happening around them and to report suspicious activity.

“It will help us, hopefully, to rescue women, children and men brought in (to the United States) under the ruse of promises of a better life,” Couvertier said.

Unfortunately, Couvertier said, “They don’t know what’s waiting for them on the other side.”

Times staff writer Mike Brassfield and Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.

Suspect anything?

Clearwater police said some signs of human trafficking include large numbers of people living in the same home, people who seem abnormally withdrawn or afraid and indications people are being held against their will, such as locks on windows. Authorities ask that anyone who thinks they have come into contact with a victim of human trafficking in Pinellas, Pasco or Hillsborough counties to call the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking hotline at (727) 562-4917. In other areas, contact the Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.