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Blue Lightning Initiative Outlined at DHS Anti-Human Trafficking Event

Customs and Border Protection announced the rollout of its latest project in the fight against human trafficking, the Blue Lightning Initiative, at a Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign Stakeholder meeting Jan. 11 in Washington, D.C.

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CBP Acting Commissioner David V. Aguilar displays a pocket guide about the CBP Blue Lightning Initiative during his remarks at the Jan. 11 DHS Blue Campaign Stakeholder Conference.
CBP Acting Commissioner David V. Aguilar displays a pocket guide about the CBP Blue Lightning Initiative during his remarks at the Jan. 11 DHS Blue Campaign Stakeholder Conference.
Photo Credit: Jim Tourtellotte

Blue Lightning provides U.S. commercial airlines that operate U.S.-bound international routes and their employees a voluntary mechanism to identify potential human trafficking victims and to notify federal authorities. The initiative so far includes a computer-based training module and printed materials on the indicators of potential human trafficking and methods for airline personnel to safely and anonymously alert federal law enforcement.

Speaking to an audience of approximately 100 representatives from non-governmental organizations, victim-assistance groups and government agencies, CBP Acting Commissioner David V. Aguilar explained how the program works and urged the aviation industry to join Blue Lightning.

In protecting our nation’s borders, “we like to talk about boots on the ground,” said Aguilar. “Flight attendants and airline employees will be the boots in the air fighting human trafficking.”

Aguilar acknowledged that the CBP and DHS battle against human trafficking will take continuing vigilance and partnership. “We come from a tough breed that has to deal with tough situations, but none tougher than human trafficking,” said Aguilar. “It’s a challenge. It’s difficult to fight, but combating it is absolutely essential. With Blue Lightning we’ll engage airline personnel to fight with us.”

Because airline personnel are uniquely positioned to observe possible human trafficking, making them aware of what potential trafficking looks like is an important first step. Indicators of human trafficking can include: physical control of travel documents of an adult traveler by a co-traveler; restricting the movement and social interaction of an adult traveler by a co-traveler; an adult traveler who is unclear on details of his/her final destination or point of contact; or a child traveler who appears to be accompanied by someone claiming to be the parent or guardian who is in fact not related to the child.

Blue Lightning also outlines several safe and discreet reporting methods for airline personnel to notify federal law enforcement. Securing these methods involved collaboration with the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration, which were also represented at yesterday’s meeting.

Other federal agencies collaborating on the Blue Campaign were represented at the conference, which was chaired by Alice Hill, senior counselor to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. The event included agency presentations and a listening session with audience members. The departments of State, Justice, Labor, Health and Human Services and Transportation also participated in the event.

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