By Yamiche Alcindor
Special to InHomelandSecurity.com
WASHINGTON — Amtrak, in collaboration with federal agencies, plans to train 8,000 employees nationwide about the dangers of human trafficking and the signs that go along with the often hidden crime.
Using materials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Amtrak workers in all of its service areas — 46 states, Washington, D.C., and Canada — will learn how to identify trafficking victims and how to report potential crimes, officials announced Thursday.
“We welcome partnerships that expand the reach of individuals who can help us to identify potential human trafficking victims,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said. “Transportation workers, including Amtrak police, train conductors, and ticket counter staff and others come into contact with thousands of people on a daily basis, making them well positioned to identify situations that don’t seem quite right.”
Napolitano added that, once victims are identified, her agency can prosecute traffickers and bring justice to thousands caught up in such enterprises. Last year, U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement initiated more than 700 human trafficking investigations that resulted in more than 900 arrests, 400 indictments and 270 convictions, she said.
As part of the new initiative, Amtrak managers will view online videos about trafficking, and regularly scheduled crew briefings will including talks about trafficking victims, said Joseph Boardman, president and CEO of the rail company.
There is no indication that Amtrak trains have been used for human trafficking, Boardman said. However, he sees the plans as preventing the crime from making its way onto trains.
“We don’t want to ignore that there is a problem going on and not be helpful,” he said. Airline employees already receive similar trafficking training through the Blue Lightning Initiative launched in January, said Ray LaHood, U.S. Secretary of Transportation.
“We cannot let the American transportation system be an enabler to these criminal acts,” LaHood said. “Raising awareness can save lives. Anytime someone travels by plane, train, bus or car they have a responsibility to keep an eye out for these activities. It can be as simple as a passenger alerting staff that they see a child on a train that doesn’t appear to know the people she is with or an Amtrak employee calling in with a tip.”
Meanwhile, Boardman said he hopes to expand the program in the future.
“There is still much more work to do,” Napolitano said. “Our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time.”