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Prof. Mark Kappelhoff Joins Sen. Klobuchar for High-Level Talks on Human Trafficking in Mexico City

APRIL 29, 2014—When Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar traveled to Mexico City recently for meetings with senior law enforcement officials, she invited Prof. Mark Kappelhoff to join her. Klobuchar's delegation—which also included North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Cindy McCain, wife of Arizona Sen. John McCain—had two main items on its agenda: human trafficking and drug trafficking, particularly the heroin trade. Kappelhoff, a seasoned federal prosecutor of human trafficking cases and one of the nation's leading experts on the crime, provided briefings and analysis both before and during the trip and helped facilitate discussions on how U.S. and Mexican authorities could best work in concert to combat the global problem of sex trafficking.

Kappelhoff joined the Law School faculty in 2012 as a professor of clinical law, directing the Criminal Justice Clinic. He spent the previous 14 years with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), starting as a trial attorney and rising to chief of the Civil Rights Division's Criminal Section. While at the DOJ he supervised and prosecuted some of its highest-profile civil rights cases, including the largest human trafficking case ever prosecuted by the federal government, United States v. Kil Soo Lee. He also created the Civil Rights Division's Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit and trained thousands of prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and nongovernmental organizations on effective strategies to combat human trafficking. Since coming to the Law School, he has continued his fight against trafficking, working as a Special Assistant United States Attorney on behalf of the U.S. Attorney's Office and serving on both federal and state human trafficking task forces.

"Mark has a wealth of experience prosecuting high-profile human trafficking cases and an enduring commitment to fighting this crime," said Klobuchar. "The meetings in Mexico were an important opportunity to focus on how our two countries can work together to combat sex trafficking and make sure these women and children are being treated as the victims that they really are."

Reflecting on his time in Mexico with Klobuchar's delegation, Kappelhoff said, "It was an honor to be part of the congressional delegation, and I'm grateful for Sen. Klobuchar's strong leadership on this issue and her unwavering commitment to building the partnerships necessary to fight human trafficking at home and abroad."

"Human trafficking is a global problem, which requires a comprehensive global strategy to protect victims and prosecute traffickers," he continued. "We have an important bilateral law enforcement relationship with Mexico, which has resulted in some real success stories of rescuing victims and prosecuting traffickers on both sides of the border." Still, he explained, "it's an intractable and incredibly disturbing problem that denies victims their basic human rights of dignity and freedom. Vulnerable victims are preyed upon and lured with false promises of love, money, or a better way of life, only to be abused and sexually exploited by the traffickers." Another thing to keep in mind, Kappelhoff said: "Sadly, this sickening exploitation is happening in Mexico City, but it's also happening in communities throughout Minnesota, as well as the nation."

In addition to meeting with Mexican law enforcement leaders, including the attorney general, the delegation visited a specialized home for homeless youth and sex trafficking victims. The facility is operated by Covenant House, an international nongovernmental organization that operates similar facilities throughout the United States, Canada, and Latin America. Kappelhoff pointed out that the visit "highlighted the fact that combating human trafficking requires strong law enforcement, but also must include efforts to provide victims with a safe, secure, and supportive environment that allows them to recover and helps to empower them to be survivors."

Of the dedicated professionals who run the Covenant House facility in Mexico City, Kappelhoff said, "They're literally saving children's lives." The delegation's visit there, he said, "was certainly the most powerful, poignant, and inspirational part of the trip."

Link to e>Perspectives International Fall 2014