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Airlines join fight against human trafficking

Thursday - 6/6/2013, 2:40pm  ET

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Delta CEO Richard Anderso, right, with transportation Sec. Ray LaHood, left, speak about combating human trafficking at Reagan National Thursday. LaHood announced a new partnership to train airline workers to know the signs of trafficking. (WTOP/John Aaron)

WASHINGTON - To fight human trafficking here and across the country, leaders from the federal government and private industry gathered at Reagan National Airport to announce a new initiative Thursday.

"Those of us who work in the transportation industry are on the front lines," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "We cannot let the American transportation system be an enabler in these criminal acts."

LaHood announced a new partnership with airlines to fight human trafficking. Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Allegiant Air and North American Airlines have agreed to take part in the voluntary Blue Lightning Initiative, which trains company employees to recognize the signs of trafficking.

"It can be as simple as a pilot getting a tip and calling it in from the flight deck," LaHood said.

Kevin McAleenan, Customs and Border Protection Acting Deputy Commissioner, said airline employees will be taught to look for several warning signs.

"If a traveler doesn't seem to have any control over their travel or identification documents," they might be a victim, McAleenan said. "[They] might not have a sense of where they're going or why. The person doesn't have freedom of movement or social interaction. They're being kept apart."

He adds that children traveling without an obvious parent or guardian could also raise suspicion.

The partnership with the airlines is similar to one between the Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security, and Amtrak, which was announced last October.

Two domestic workers were removed from a diplomatic mansion in McLean in May following accusations they were being held like slaves. The case highlighted problems with human trafficking in the D.C. region. And at least one organization that fights to combat the modern slave trade has said that Northern Virginia in particular is a hot spot for human trafficking.

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