Local and federal officials are hoping to shine a spotlight on human trafficking, an industry they say results in thousands of people being shipped to the United States illegally each year and forced to work in slave-like conditions in sweatshops, houses of prostitution and other businesses.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has partnered with the city of Los Angeles to create the Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking program. More than 90 organizations are taking part.
"Hear me loud and clear," Councilman Tony Cardenas said Wednesday as the program was unveiled. "Traffickers are not welcome to this city and they will no longer think of Los Angeles as a hot spot for their sadistic activities."
Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are brought to the country each year to work in slave-like conditions, said Steve Wagner, director of the Department of Health and Human Services' trafficking in persons program.
Authorities say most victims come from Latin America, southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.
In January, the Justice Department awarded the Los Angeles Police Department a $450,000 grant to train officers in recognizing trafficking victims.
On Sept. 21, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed two anti-trafficking bills - one making trafficking a felony in California and another calling for the creation of a broad anti-trafficking task force.
Classes to teach city employees to recognize trafficking operations will be reimbursed by the Department of Health and Human Services, the AP reports.