Hundreds of police and social workers are on the alert for foreigners held against their will.
Colorado officials on Monday warned that the elusive problem of
human trafficking “is alive and well” in neighborhoods
And public-safety chiefs are mobilizing hundreds of police officers
and social workers to watch out for trafficked workers held against
Some of the 800 trained so far, under a $450,000 federal grant,
have begun using a network of on-call interpreters who speak
Korean, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish and can help identify
“This is a hidden, hideous, complex crime that is against civil
rights of people around the world,” said state Rep. Alice
Borodkin, D-Denver, leader of a task force scheduled to address
legislative committees today.
A task-force study completed this month refers to recent cases,
including a Denver police crackdown on Korean-run spas and the
conviction of an Aurora couple from Saudi Arabia who kept an
Indonesian woman as a slave.
Meanwhile, FBI agents in December finished two investigations of
farmworkers held against their will, FBI spokeswoman Rene
“If we hear about it, we will work it,” she said.
The problem: Trafficking has proved hard to detect. Victims
typically fear retribution and clam up, experts say. Unlike
smuggling, trafficking involves confiscation of travel documents
and other coercion.
The U.S. State Department estimates 14,500 to 17,500 foreign
workers are brought into the country each year via trafficking –
part of a $9 billion global criminal trade exceeded only by illegal
arms and drug dealing.
A handful of traffickers are convicted each year under federal
laws. Colorado and 26 other states have passed anti-trafficking
laws of their own.
Now Colorado public-safety officials are training police officers
and others along Interstates 25 and 70 to treat foreign workers
they meet as possible victims.
A hotline run under federal contract by the Salvation Army is to
dispatch interpreters to help police.
Lakewood police Sgt. Bob Major and his special investigators tried
it out last month. A resident had tipped them that a massage parlor
might be holding women inside.
Major deployed undercover detectives. On their second visit, a
Chinese woman newly arrived from Arizona and a colleague offered
the detectives sex for an extra $40, Major said.
Beyond ending prostitution, the goal of police was “to see if we
could get them to cooperate on human trafficking.”
The police called for help. A Mandarin interpreter and an
immigration attorney arrived at police headquarters within three
hours and helped conduct an interview with the Chinese woman and a
If the women were coerced and turned on traffickers, the police
explained, they could be sheltered in a safehouse and issued
special visas to stay in the country under federal law.
Female supervisors from the spa arrived at police headquarters and
bailed them out of jail.
“We talk to a lot of these women. They tell us they’re here of
their own free will. But sometimes their families are threatened
back home,” Major said.
He and his detectives planned to use interpreters again when
dealing with possible victims, he said. “Our message: If you help
us, we will take care of you.”
Federal agents forged ahead with their crackdown on employers who
hire illegal foreign workers – raiding 63 entertainment-eateries
around the country and arresting 193 janitors supplied by a
national cleaning contractor.
The raids on corporate-run chain restaurants – cultural icons
including ESPN Zone, Dave & Busters, and Hard Rock Cafe – netted
the arrest of 12 janitors in the Denver area, authorities announced
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents also arrested three
owners of the cleaning company – Nevada-based Rosenbaum-Cunningham
International Inc. – accusing them of evading $18 million in
payroll taxes and using the money to buy boats, vehicles,
racehorses, fancy homes and education for their kids.
If convicted, the owners – Florida residents – could face up to 10
years in prison and restitution to the government.
This case shows “how some employers try to beat the system and
their competition by hiring illegal workers,” said Jeff Copp, ICE
district chief based in Denver. “Bypassing immigration, tax and
labor laws are serious crimes that will be investigated and
prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
The names, nationalities and locations of detained janitors weren’t
released. Immigrant-rights advocates urged ICE agents to ensure
humane treatment for families so that children returning from
school wouldn’t be alone. Colorado activists planned to gather
downtown at El Centro Humanitario para los Trabajadores on Thursday
night to pray for worker families and call for a moratorium on
The corporate-run restaurants that hired RCI to perform janitorial
services weren’t targeted.
“We’re looking for a new company for janitorial services,” ESPN
Zone spokeswoman Christine Baum said.
The Wednesday-Thursday crackdown, shortly before Congress debates
immigration, follows high-profile raids Dec. 12 that targeted
workers at Swift & Co. meatpacking plants in Colorado and five
ICE officials say they’re escalating worksite enforcement to remove
the jobs magnet that has drawn an estimated 8 million illegal
“There are a number of industries … that hire illegal aliens
blatantly almost as part of their business practices,” ICE
spokesman Marc Raimondi said in Washington, D.C.
While companies that used RCI janitors weren’t targeted, all U.S.
companies ought to be checking their contractors, asking to review
worker documents, Raimondi said.
This won’t insulate companies but could help keep them on the right
side of the law, he said.
“Most businesses want to do the right thing,” he said.
Now immigration analysts, who are tracking recent raids, are
considering where continued robust immigration enforcement might
“What Americans will find is they don’t have as clean an
environment to munch their burgers and fries,” said Crystal
Williams, deputy director of the American Immigration Lawyers
Association, a pro-immigration group in Washington.
The eateries that employed RCI janitors “are going to find it hard
to replace the people who were removed,” Williams said. “There’s
a need for these workers.”
“As they do more raids, we will find people we take for granted,
who do work we don’t do, are bit by bit disappearing,” Williams
said. “If ICE keeps on enforcing, and Congress doesn’t do anything
to ensure there’s a legal flow of workers, we’re going to have
worker shortages in a lot of the service industries.”
Another possibility: Employers might have to pay higher wages.
“I don’t have any official numbers to draw from,” Colorado
Department of Labor and Employment senior economist Joseph Winter
said. “But if the raids are effective enough to dissuade
lower-priced workers from coming into the state, it may have some
effect on wages.”
Illegal immigrants employed by janitorial contractor
Rosenbaum-Cunningham International taken into custody
Business locations in 17 states and D.C. where raids took place
Workers arrested in Denver-area eateries ESPN Zone, Dave & Busters
and Hard Rock Cafe