Grantee Story on Trafficking Used to Train Thousands of Officials

A team from the UC Berkeley Investigative Reporting Program, led by Daffodil Altan and Andres Cediel, joined PBS FRONTLINE for an investigative report on labor trafficking. The story, with seed funding from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, focuses on several teenagers from Guatemala who were brought to the United States and forced to work on an egg farm in Ohio.

The investigative report exposed a criminal network that exploits undocumented minors and the companies that profit from forced labor. The report also showed that the U.S. government actually delivered some of the trafficked minors directly to the people who were later charged with trafficking them. The story explained that the federal government’s program for vetting and placing unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. border had relaxed its rules and background checks.

In the piece that aired on FRONTLINE, Altan interviewed some of the trafficked children and their families. The story documented how traffickers communicate with the children, their families and the companies who profit from the forced labor, and it showed the children’s living conditions while they were being held.

“What we knew was that this was an incredibly difficult area to report on,” Altan later said. “Reporting was limited, and we were trying to make a film about an unseen and invisible crime. We really wanted to tell this story in a way it hadn’t been told before, to try to take apart what this crime looks like on U.S. soil.”

Shortly after the FRONTLINE piece aired, a U.S. Senate committee held hearings on the federal government’s handling of these and other cases.

The U.S. Department of Justice is using the 55-minute story as a training tool in its Anti-Human Trafficking Program for thousands of law enforcement officials and prosecutors.

The story was a finalist for the prestigious Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting from the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School. The judges for the Goldsmith Prize said “Trafficked in America” uncovered “widespread criminal abuse,” and they highlighted that it will be used to help officials understand the nature and consequences of trafficking.