February 17th, 2011
02:12 PM ET

The 'ugly underbelly of America'

For a special report in December, CNN's Anderson Cooper talked to John Walsh, host of TV's "America's Most Wanted," about human trafficking in the United States. Here's an edited transcript of the interview.

WALSH: It's all - it's all over this country, and I don't think politicians or the criminal justice system has really dealt with it. It's the ugly underbelly of America.

It's something - save the whales is a good thing, save the polar bears, save the Amazon, but this is ugly, ugly stuff. There's three big revenue streams for illegal activity. No. 1 is drugs. We all know that. Tied with number two with illegal arms and guns is sex trade.

And who is the No. 1 country that engages in sex trade and use of illegal workers and keeping them in slavery like those women? It's America. And we have Central Americans. We have Mexicans -

COOPER: Tens of thousands of people are brought - are trafficked into the United States for this, for slavery.

WALSH: For sex, for work, work they don't want to do, work they don't have to do, seven days a week. Brutalized, scared to death, threatened with, "We'll kill you. We'll kill your family."

I think it's the underbelly of this rich, rich country we live in that touts personal freedoms all over the world. We are the freest country in the world. Every time I come back, I say thank God that I live in America.

But we're also a great country in denial. We're a country that says freedom of sex, freedom of speech. How about freedom of life? Of trying to live your life not being exploited and not being used in sex trade or working in a job that you're terrified to tell anybody.

COOPER: And I guess, I mean, some people say, well, look, these women were brought in from Africa working in this hair salon. They weren't chained up. They weren't, you know. They were coming and going. They were walking to work every day. Why didn't they try to escape? I guess the answer to that or one of the answers is, had they tried to escape, they were afraid of being deported and being sent back.

WALSH: Of retribution. I mean, the people who manipulate these people are good at it. They brought them in. They smuggled it in. Look at the Mexican people that have been smuggled in here. I've done many cases of Mexican pimps and madams. A woman who smuggled in young girls from Mexico telling them that they're going to be maids, again, at the Ritz Carlton. They're going to be a waitress at an Applebee.

And where are they brought to? South Florida where I'm from or they're brought to Southern California or Texas. And they're brutalized by - pimps control them and say, "I'll kill you. You don't tell anybody. Or we'll get back into Mexico and we'll kill your loved ones. We know exactly where you're from. We got you from your family."

COOPER: Do you think the law knows how to deal with this? I mean, the trafficker in the case of the Africans in the hair salon got 27 years. That's an extraordinarily long sentence for - it's a rare sentence.

WALSH: It's a bellwether. It's great. It sends that large message that, if you're going to bring people into this country illegally and exploit them, you're going to pay for it. And I think law enforcement's ready to saddle up for years. They just don't have the resources.

The FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children just partnered up in a nationwide sting. And they arrested 900 people that were involved in sex trafficking of little children, of teenagers, girls, 12, 13 years old. They got - I forget how many kids that they got out of that. Something like 30 kids they got out of it.

They've been wanting to do this for years. They need the mandate. They need the money. They need the training. They need the resources. And they need the politicians to say it's not just enough to deport these guys and push them back over the border. They're going to come back in six months and they're going to operate somewhere else.

Topics: The Traffickers • Voices

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    My business is right next to an Asian run Massage Parlor, we share walls. The girls that work there speak no english, are always in nighties (any time of day) and are never allowed outside. I sometimes see them poking their heads outside the back door of the business always in the same Nighties. I've called the City of Mesa Police dept. and Zoning dept., these girls live there. But nothing has every happened. I've watched 2 arrive for the first time there and they each have a tiny bundle of clothes in their hands and nothing else. I or my employess have never seen anyone ever leave, except customers. I've always thought this was slavery of some sort but it appears that the City of Mesa, AZ can't do anything to stop it. Perhaps if we had ways to deal with immigration issues it would help.

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