HOUSTON– Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston Airport System (HAS) Director Mario Diaz signed a memorandum of understanding Oct. 8, with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), forging a public outreach campaign to combat human trafficking through a program called Blue Lightning Initiative (BLI).
BLI is an element of the DHS Blue Campaign led by DOT and DHS Component Agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). BLI trains personnel to combat human trafficking within the commercial aviation industry.
HAS is the first airport system in the country to become a formal BLI partner.
“Under Secretary Chao’s leadership, the DOT is empowering transportation organizations, employees and the traveling public with the knowledge to recognize and report suspected instances of human trafficking. This BLI partnership is an impressive step forward, one that highlights the dedication of this community in taking a stand to end human trafficking. It will make a difference in many lives,” said David Short, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs.
“DHS is proud to announce a BLI partnership with the Houston Airport System. Airport employees will play a vital role in combating human trafficking in Houston through identifying possible victims and reporting these suspicions to law enforcement. We look forward to continuing this important relationship and further efforts to combat human trafficking in our Country” Kaitlin Seale, Program Manager DHS Blue Campaign.
“The City of Houston and the Houston Airport System fully support the anti-human trafficking goals of the BLI. This agreement affirms and recognizes our goal to completely eradicate all forms of human trafficking,” Mayor Turner said. “We will do everything in our power to work with the federal government in ending these heinous crimes.”
“The Houston Airport System (HAS) remains committed to helping our federal partners in their efforts to combat human trafficking. The practice of human trafficking is a scourge to humanity, and it must end,” Diaz said.
Prior to Super Bowl LI in Houston in February 2017, HAS promoted awareness and education among volunteers and staff on how to identify possible human trafficking victims. “Since then,” Diaz said, “we have taken a highly visible and proactive stance to show that human trafficking is not acceptable at Houston’s airports.”
In addition to the BLI campaign, HAS’s related efforts include training in coordination with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and an art initiative to increase awareness of human trafficking. HAS also added an anti-trafficking statement to its fly2houston.com website.
All modes of transportation can be unwitting conduits for human trafficking; thus, with proper awareness and training, employees in the transportation industry can be key assets in identifying and reporting suspicious behavior. The new partnership with HAS, one of the largest airport systems in the world, will further discourage human trafficking activity and all HAS employees will be trained to detect the signs of labor and sex trafficking. When such suspicions are triggered, employees have been instructed to follow the BLI reporting protocol and expeditiously report tips to the DHS Tip Line number at 1-866-347-2423.
Citywide, Mayor Turner’s special adviser on human trafficking, Minal Patel Davis, overseas internationally recognized training of city workers, such as Health Department restaurant inspectors, to identity human trafficking and alert law enforcement.
“The United States Department of Homeland Security and the United States Department of Transportation are Federal agencies of the United States Government and are separate and distinct entities from this Airport.”