As escort and author Amanda Brooks commented on Twitter today, "trafficker is the new terrorist" in America. The spectre of sex trafficking is providing the Department of Homeland Security with new cover to push citizens who "see something" to "say something" and urge hospitality workers to turn in "suspicious" patrons. And it's giving non-white airline passengers a new reason to fear detainment at the hands of government officials. The latest example comes out of New York, where an entire plane was detained while an interracial couple—the woman Asian American, the man Puerto Rican—were questioned by Port Authority police officers over suspected sex trafficking.
The couple, Kathleen Chan and Jay Serrano, are residents of Astoria, Queens, who were returning from a holiday trip to the Dominican Republic. When their American Airlines flight landed at JFK Airport, the flight captain asked everyone to stay seated. After about 20 minutes, three armed Port Authority police officers entered the plane and asked Chan to escort them outside, she said.
"Chan showed her New York State driver's license, with its photo ID and proof that she lived at the same address in Astoria that Serrano did," reports New York City news station PIX 11.
"I asked him, 'Can you tell me what this is about?'" Chan recalled. "He told me the flight crew had alerted the police that it was a possible case of sex trafficking. They thought I had not spoken any English, and that I was taking directions from Jay during the flight."
[…] The officers told Chan and Serrano the reasons they were flagged. The flight crew had noticed that Chan followed Serrano to the bathroom, when he needed to use the facilities. Serrano told PIX 11 he had a fever and was sick during the turbulent flight, so Chan helped him get to the bathroom, and she waited for him outside.
At one point, a male flight attendant asked Chan to move from his seat. "So, I apologized," she said. At another point, Serrano requested a half cup of orange juice, and when he received a full cup, he gave some to Chan, who requested a stirrer.
A couple sharing an orange juice? I mean, geez, why didn't Serrano just shackle her already?
By way of an explanation, an American Airlines statement noted that "out of an abundance of caution, our employees are trained to report any activity that is out of the ordinary."
Expect this sort of "abundance of caution" to ramp up as more and more transit employees—from Transportation Security Administration agents to Amtrak and Greyhound staff—are required under federal and state laws to get trained on the alleged signs of sex trafficking.
At the federal level, this is conducted under the guise of Homeland Security's Blue Campaign, which offers "human trafficking awareness training" to not just U.S. Customs officers and Border Patrol agents but also to public-school teachers and administrators, emergency responders, healthcare providers, clergy members, hotel housekeepers, truck drivers, and many others. DHS also distributes federally-funded posters and other propaganda materials for display in city subway stations, airport bookstores, truck stops, and gas stations. Promotional materials mix melodramatic and sexualized images of young women with rhetoric about "modern slavery" and "awareness" tips that alternate between so obvious it's absurd ("was the victim forced to perform sexual acts?") to so broad they could ensnare anyone ("avoids eye contact," travels with too few or too many personal belongings).
The Blue Lightening Initiative is DHS and the Department of Transportation's awareness effort aimed specifically at flight attendants and other commercial-airline personnel. "Flight Attendants and airline employees will be the 'boots in the air' fighting human trafficking," said Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner David V. Aguilar recently.
In December, members of the Korean pop band Oh My Girl were detained at Los Angeles International Airport for a period of at least several hours. U.S. Customs officials said the Asian teen band members were detained for trying to enter the country with the wrong visas, but their management claim this is not true and authorities held them for 15 hours on suspicion that the girls were being sex trafficked.