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Human smuggling a top priority for U.S. Homeland Security Dept.

Secretary of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Janet Napolitano said yesterday that human smuggling is now a global phenomenon and as such is a top priority for the DHS.

During the opening ceremony of the 2nd annual Caribbean–United States Security Cooperation Dialogue at the Atlantis Resort yesterday, Napolitano outlined U.S. efforts to not only combat terrorism and drug trafficking, but also human smuggling, a consistent problem here in The Bahamas.  The country’s close proximity to the U.S. makes it a key transit route.

Napolitano told reporters during a media roundtable that it is essential to address transitional threats like human smuggling.  “The DHS is now seeing a lot more movement of people around the world,” she noted.  “It (human smuggling) presents several different types of problems at several different levels.  There is the exploitation of illegal immigrants for various purposes like child sex trafficking, some of which even equates to slavery.  There is also the use of illegal immigrants for the purposes of drug trafficking and committing other crimes,” said Napolitano.

“When we talk in the Caribbean region about security and human trafficking, it is because it is an ever-growing problem.  It is a top priority for the DHS and increasingly a top priority for countries in the Caribbean.  Many of the tools, tactics and legal authorities we use (to combat) human smuggling are identical to those we use for other (types of) illegal smuggling.”

Napolitano added that the U.S. is firmly committed to the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) and the three pillars contained in its plan of action, which are to substantially reduce illicit trafficking, increase public safety and security, and promote social justice.

“We know the majority of country and territory borders in the Caribbean are maritime borders, not land borders.  This presents unique challenges for border security efforts,” she said.

Napolitano said, however, that she is satisfied that The Bahamas is doing everything it can to protect its borders.

“I think the record here [in The Bahamas] is quite strong.  We have had very good meetings with the prime minister.  We have a great partnership with The Bahamas,” she said.

Prison reform is also another top priority for the DHS.  Roberta Jacobson, acting assistant secretary of the DHS, said assessments are now being carried out to more adequately address the reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners.

“This is an area that is of great concern for countries in the Caribbean.  I think that we all want to ensure that people can be brought to justice and then safely incarcerated.  We also must ensure that people are not able to continue to apply their trade from prison,” said Jacobson.

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