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Another Asian Air Traveler Detained Over Suspicions She's Being Sex Trafficked

"Flight Attendants and airline employees will be the 'boots in the air' fighting human trafficking," say federal officials.

Homeland Security Blue CampaignHomeland Security Blue CampaignAs 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?

Blue CampaignBlue CampaignBy 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.

Photo Credit: Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign

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  • lafe.long||

    holiday trip to the Dominican Republican.

    Heh.

  • tarran||

    /reads alt text and starts applauding.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Agreed.

  • Pan Zagloba||

    Thanks for pointing it out. I'm sorry, ENB, that was pure gold and I missed it.

    True genius, unappreciated etc...

  • Rich||

    "out of an abundance of caution, our employees are trained to report any activity that is out of the ordinary."

    Oh, FFS! *Everything* is "out of the ordinary", now, isn't it?

  • R C Dean||

    Indeed. Being completely ordinary is unusual in and of itself, ergo . . .

  • tarran||

    You know who else mistook Asian inscrutability as a threat to the American way of life?

  • Microaggressor||

    Affirmative Action supporters?

  • Pan Zagloba||

    Flash Gordon?

  • Loki||

  • Rich||

    Anita Bryant?

  • Inigo Montoya, Micro-Aggressor||

    Sax Rohmer?

  • Malvolio||

    Obscure Reference, FTW!

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    Chris Tucker?

  • Citizen X||

    FDR?

  • Microaggressor||

    *Looks down, slowly checks box that reads "suspiciously traveling with too few personal belongings" *

  • Juvenile Bluster||

    The most unpopular robot fighter since Sergeant Feces Processor?

  • AlmightyJB||

    "our employees are trained to report any activity that is out of the ordinary"

    Unless it's by Muslims. Then they are trained not to be racist. Asians? Meh

  • Detroit Linguist||

    If you read the original article (in an airlines blog) you'll find the usual quotient of derp: 'a few minutes of embarrassment is worth it to protect the lives of the tens of thousands of sex slaves annually imported into our country' etc. etc.

  • Microaggressor||

    What are ya gonna do, fact check them?

  • Detroit Linguist||

    Well, I thought about commenting (i.e. calling BS) but then I would have had to register, and I'm registered on too many blogs as it is.

  • Loki||

    Good call. Registration is the first step to confiscation...

  • Frankjasper1||

    A comment from another site said something along the lines of "whoever thinks the FA shouldn't have said something is basically responsible for all the sex trafficking crimes in the united states"

  • Irish ♥s ESB||

    Yeah, that was on the article I posted earlier.

    Specifically here.

    And the comment:

    "Check out http://www.innocentsatrisk.org . According to the website “The United States is one of the largest destination countries in the world.” 18,000 into the US annually and 300,000 trafficked through the US annually. On average 100 per day. So to all of you who say the FA was wrong and should mind her own business. . . You are responsible for each and every victim."

    There are like a half dozen comments that are equally golden

  • Irish ♥s ESB||

    Also:

    "reply to this
    Elizabeth Nolan Brown|1.14.16 @ 3:54PM|#

    OK I just blogged about this but I swear I'm just seeing your comment about it now

    (preempting any insufficient-h/t whining...)"

    I would never whine about such things and resent the implication!

  • Elizabeth Nolan Brown||

    then you're classier than a lot of people around this joint ;)

  • Crusty Juggler||

    then you're classier than a lot of people around this joint ;)

    Commentariat, we should be offended. Rise up! Rise up against the (wo)man! We shall be heard!

  • Florida Man||

    I'll *rise* up to ENB!
    /sorry, I'm classless

  • Irish ♥s ESB||

    You people disgust me and I see why ENB says I outclass you.

  • Swiss Servator||

    *moons Irish*

    WE ARE PLENTY CLASSY!!!

  • Crusty Juggler||

    It's people like you that give guys like us a bad name, FM. Postrel was right.

  • Loki||

    Something something... "tallest midget..." mumble mumble... "smartest kid with Down Syndrome..."

  • Loki||

    That was supposed to be a response to Irish's comment at 4:20.

    Heh-heh, 4:20...

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Every Reason writer steals from the comments and does not even credit the commentariat! Then they go to their cocktail parties and laugh about it! It says so in the pamphlet I was issued after I signed up for commenting.

  • Citizen X||

    You got a pamphlet? All i got was this wart on my junk. No fair!

  • Rich||

    "So to all of you who say the FA was wrong and should mind her own business. . . You are responsible for each and every victim."

    Wait. Isn't *that comment* "activity that is out of the ordinary"?

  • Frankjasper1||

    Using their logic if they dont want every flyer confronted by police, then basically they are complicit in sex crimes!

  • snaff||

    "If you can save one child...." reasoning

  • Notorious UGCC||

    If that played any role in their being singled out, the airline is in deep crap.

  • Necron 99||

    You see, a pimp's love is very different from that of a square.

  • Rich||

    It isn't *profiling*, damn it! It's an abundance of caution!

  • Rhywun||

    Of course it did. I wish they sued the fuck out of the airline but there's no chance they'd win.

  • Detroit Linguist||

    I had a white colleague (now deceased) who had been married to an Ethiopian woman. He ended up being responsible for raising the grandkid, and was always being stopped at airline check-in counters who wanted him to prove the 8-year-old was his grandson. And that was fifteen years ago. Apparently now it happens even when the racially diverse pair are roughly the same age. And I'll bet the self-righteous commenters on the various blogs mentioned above consider themselves enlightened, if not social justice warriors.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Racial harmony is a red flag.

  • Unreconstructed (Sans Flag)||

    As an inveterate people watcher, I feel pretty certain that you can/b tell a lot by observing couples and groups of people. I've also learned that most people don't put in the time to actually *watch*, and so these stupid lists of "possible signs" put out by the government make them feel like they are observant and intelligent, when all other evidence points to the contrary.

  • Unreconstructed (Sans Flag)||

    Woohoo! Broken end tag.

  • Florida Man||

    inveterate

    I read that as invertebrate and thought you were a giant mollusk.

  • Rich||

    On the internet no one knows you're a mollusk.

    Right, "Mr. Lizard"?

  • Florida Man||

    If he were I giant mollusk I would sauté him in garlic and butter and then eat myself into a food coma.

  • Lord Rollingpin||

    This is why aliens don't visit our planet. A big thank you to Florida Man!

  • Unreconstructed (Sans Flag)||

    No, no...I'm heartless (aka libertarian), not spineless!

  • Crusty Juggler||

    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.

    Flight attendants, airline employees, and truckers are all on the front lines of human trafficking? I feel safe.

  • Rich||

    "Looks like we got us another suspicious seat cover headin' west on I-70."

  • Crusty Juggler||

    A Convoy remake where a group of truckers bust a sex trafficking ring using their cb radios and a little help from their flight attendant friends?

    Someone get C.W. McCall on the phone, and then call my agent.

  • DEATFBIRSECIA||

    +1 Fresh Aire

  • Inigo Montoya, Micro-Aggressor||

    I might see it. Depends on the cast.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    I have no doubt that slavery continues to exist in the world, and in the U.S.

    In this country this mainly means foreign slaves.

    And of course sex slavery is more, ah, sexy.

    Are airline employees told to watch for the telltale signs of someone being brought to do agricultural labor in a guarded compound? Or to do housework while imprisoned in the "owner's" house?

    Of course, the warning posters wouldn't involved young women being bound and gagged. So it would be harder to, ah, raise awareness.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    "Forced labor, it turns out, is everywhere. Although the problem of human trafficking has sparked political attention over the past decade, the focus in the US – in terms of advocacy, funding, and law enforcement – has been almost entirely on sex trafficking...

    "...the ILO [International Labor Organization] estimates 1.5 million victims of forced labor in North America and Europe. More fine-tuned research from smaller areas have found numbers that seem to support that estimate. One study from San Diego County, Calif., for instance, estimated that 38,500 undocumented Spanish-speaking migrants were victims of trafficking in that municipality of about 3.2 million....

  • Notorious UGCC||

    "According to court papers and advocates who worked on the case, the five men serving gyros and taking down carnival rides came to the US on temporary guest worker visas. They had been in Mexico in 2010 when a labor recruiter came to town looking for people to work in the carnival industry. The men signed a contract that promised them more than $10 an hour, as well as room and board, and the recruiter helped them secure H2-B visas.

    "But once they got to the United States, it turned out that they had to sleep nine or 10 men to a bug-infested trailer. They received one meal a day. And when they got paid at all, they received $1 or $2 an hour. Their boss, they said, threatened that they would be arrested and deported if they tried to quit. Eventually Salgado’s organization filed a lawsuit on the workers’ behalf that led to a settlement under which the vendor agreed to give the workers their back pay."

    And they didn't even have to print up titillating posters about it!

  • Brian||

    It's sad that they never connect the dots between immigration/travel laws and human trafficking.

    Frequently, when the story of the human slave unfolds, we discover that the human slave was working to "earn back" their passport, or their visa, or whatever, without which they're here illegally, with no identity.

    It sounds like a large part of human trafficking execution involves explicitly gaming immigration and travel laws to the advantage of human slavers, and the disadvantage of human slaves.

    Eh, whatevs. We're just a few John-round-ups away from ending human slavery. And we always will be.

  • Juvenile Bluster||

    If John is round up we may be able to end trafficking of fat girls.

    (ok i'm sorry that was wrong)

  • ||

    That's a really good point. If the people in power didn't insist so strongly on people having Ze Correct Papers, slavers wouldn't be able to control people by taking away those papers.

    (I happen to be particularly annoyed about papers lately, my time at the DMV turned out to have been a waste because out of all the pieces of identity paperwork I had with me, I was missing my Social Security card, which is apparently the only important thing. Passport? Out-of-state driver's license? Marriage certificate? Multiple credit cards, utility bills, lease, employer ID? Apparently none of that matters, only a decades-old piece of tagboard with a number typed on it matters.)

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    The Blue Lightening Initiative

    Most excellent typo.

  • Jima||

    This is just a ploy for Homeland Security losers to surf Asian porn sites and call it "research related to human trafficking". After a couple hours looking at the overweight travelers on the scanner at the airports, they're trying to recover some semblance of what's sexy and what's not. Or something... That's my guess.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Federal employees never need an excuse to look at pornography.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    As escort and author Amanda Brooks commented on Twitter today

    If (and when, because I am a dreamer), I win the lottery, I would like access to ENB's twitter pals.

  • Rhywun||

    "Flight Attendants and airline employees will be the 'boots in the air' fighting human trafficking," say federal officials.

    This is giant red flag to every airline employee to find a different line of work - one where FedGov won't toss you in jail for "failing" to stop "sex traffic".

  • Loki||

    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.

    ...

    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."

    So... we're now at the point where a woman being helpful to her sick husband, polite to flight attendants, and a couple sharing a beverage are considered out of the ordinary?!

    I guess if she hadn't helped him to the bathroom, was a bitch to the flight attendants, and her husband had raised hell over them bringing him too much OJ, that would have been totally copacetic? Christ on a motherfucking cracker, people are stupid.

    Great alt-text, BTW.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Michelle Guelbart, who works with the travel industry for the anti-trafficking organization, ECPAT USA, explained that flight crews are taught to look for certain indicators.
    ...
    Guelbart added, “Maybe the airlines want to be safer rather than sorry.”

    I told you all that Tulpa was a woman, but you didn't believe me.

  • Micu5||

    "Abundance of caution" = "We couldn't think of a logical reason"

  • croaker||

    Maybe a few lawsuits from falsely arrested passengers will cool their jets.

    See something? Shut the fuck up!

  • Notorious UGCC||

    Yeah, I don't want to cool their jets until after they've landed.

  • Notorious UGCC||

    I bet you guys will add those posters to your "social-concern bank," know what I mean?

  • AlmightyJB||

    So racial profiling is ok now? Where is the sjw outrage?

  • snaff||

    I've been told that in some cultures it's impolite to make eye contact, especially to authority figures and/or people in uniform, or people of higher status. How ethnocentric of these airlines!

  • ||

    pineapple

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