Tomorrow, July 4, is one of the most recognized and celebrated holidays in the United States. If you drive down any street in the US, you can find rows and rows of American Flags flying proudly. Drivers honk their horns to show their appreciation, and organizations such as the Atlanta Braves go out of their way to make sure to show their gratitude to the soldiers who are fighting for our freedom. We also make sure to remember those who died defending this same freedom. Yes, I am red-blooded American, and I will celebrate our independence tomorrow as I do every day of my life. In many communities, the firework celebrations actually began several days ago (if not before then!).
However, as Batya and I were watching "Drop Dead Diva" on Sunday evening, I was reminded of a very important challenge and problem the world faces...and we certainly face it here in the US as well. When I speak of human rights to various groups, there is always someone who says we have a responsibility to take care of our own problems here on American soil before we worry about international concerns. Ok, so, here is an issue that faces us today: Human trafficking. Yes, human slavery - not just outside of the US. Although we fought a war that eventually led to the abolishing of slavery here in the US, we still are challenged by this same problem today.
Here is a quote that I found on the US Department of Homeland Security (http://www.ice.gov/human-trafficking/):
"Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes that ICE investigates. In its worst manifestation, human trafficking is akin to modern-day slavery. Victims pay to be illegally transported into the United States only to find themselves in the thrall of traffickers. They are forced into prostitution, involuntary labor and other forms of servitude to repay debts – often entry in the United States. In certain cases, the victims are mere children. They find themselves surrounded by an unfamiliar culture and language without identification documents, fearing for their lives and the lives of their families."
----- ICE - US Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Yes, it is a problem we face today. And, in order for us to be able to fight against this awful human rights violation, we must first learn about it. We MUST learn the signs and be able to contact law enforcement.
Again, from the US Department of Homeland Security:
"ICE relies on tips from the public to dismantle these organizations. I encourage you to keep your eyes and ears open to suspicious activity. Trafficking victims are often hidden in plain sight, voiceless and scared. If you notice suspicious activity in your community, call ICE’s Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or report tips online: http://www.ice.gov/exec/forms/hsi-tips/tips.asp."
On the ICE website, you can find very important information, including: human trafficking indicators, human trafficking investigation reports, and more. If you are not sure, contact ICE or another law enforcement agency in your community.
The Torah teaches us, Ve'ahavtah Lereiacha Kamocha, "Love your neighbor as yourself." While we celebrate our freedom tomorrow and every day, let us not forget about those in the world (and in our own communities) who still suffer from slavery, human smuggling, forced prostitution, and so many other violations of basic human rights. May each of us enjoy our time with our families tomorrow - never losing sight of the importance of recognizing life's challenges and working to make the world a better place for everyone!
Rabbi Erin Boxt