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Dramatic TV ads sell anti-human-trafficking message: 'Don't Be Fooled'

By Mike M. Ahlers, CNN
A TV ad shows a girl trapped in a large cage, being forced to sing by her captors.
A TV ad shows a girl trapped in a large cage, being forced to sing by her captors.
  • Ads warn potential immigrants about becoming victims of human traffickers
  • The campaign -- "Don't Be Fooled" already is in Mexico and Central America
  • This week, it will be expanded to U.S. cities that are key immigrant destinations
  • "We want to involve the American public in ending this abomination," a U.S. official says

Washington (CNN) -- The TV ads are dramatic, foreboding, and heavily suggestive of violence and sexual exploitation.

And they were created by the U.S. government.

The Department of Homeland Security airs the ads in Mexico and Central America to warn people about the dangers of illegal passage to the United States.

But in an expansion of the program, DHS this week will begin airing similar ads in Florida, Georgia, and Washington -- key immigrant destinations.

Officials say the U.S. ads are intended for several audiences: victims of human trafficking already in the United States, good Samaritans who want to report suspicious activity, and U.S. residents who may be considering paying for a relative's illegal passage, unwittingly putting them in harm's way.

The theme of the campaign: "No Te Enganes -- Don't Be Fooled."

"The message goes out to them today: Do not be fooled. Do not fall into this situation where you may be placing a loved one into a pipeline of slavery," said David Aguilar, deputy administrator of Customs and Border Protection.

U.S. officials say human smugglers have grown increasingly ruthless, often robbing migrants of their money and identification cards and coercing them into force labor, sexual exploitation or even slavery. Migrants may think they are dealing with human smugglers who are "transportation-based," but end up victims of human traffickers, who are "exploitation- based," said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deputy Director Kumar C. Kibble.

The TV, radio and billboard public service announcements invite community action, promoting a phone number -- 1-888-3737-888 -- people can call to report suspicious activity.

The phone number is answered by volunteers at the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, operated by the non-profit Polaris Project.

"Since we've started doing the hotline in 2007, we've taken over 34,000 calls and believe we've learned (of) ... over 4,000 potential victims of trafficking," said Bradley Myles, executive director of the project. The hotline serves as a crisis line for victims, a tip line, and a reference line for information.

Myles called the 4,000 potential victims "the tip of the iceberg."

Officials said CBP targeted U.S. cities that have high immigrant populations, and avoided border states because they are already aware of the problem of human exploitation. "They live it," Aguilar said.

"We want to involve the American public in ending this abomination," he said. "We need your help. We know and are confident that when citizens become aware of what human trafficking looks like, they will step forward to report it."