U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s team that works to prevent the entry of goods made used forced labor was honored with this year’s Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal People’s Choice Award.
Executive Director Ana B. Hinojosa and Deputy Executive Director Eric Choy in the Trade Remedy Law Enforcement Directorate received the award for developing what CBP calls “a robust civil investigative program to identify forced labor in U.S. supply chains and take appropriate enforcement actions.”
A record 113,000 votes were cast for this year’s People’s Choice Award, a highlight of the Service to America Medals — or “Sammies” — presented annually since 2002 by the Partnership for Public Service.
Sammies honor exceptional federal workers who are “breaking down barriers, overcoming huge challenges and getting results,” according to the Partnership for Public Service. “Whether they’re defending the homeland, protecting the environment, ensuring public safety, making scientific and medical discoveries, or responding to natural and manmade disasters, these men and women put service before self and make a lasting difference.”
In addition to the People’s Choice honor, medals will be awarded for the federal employee of the year; career achievement; emerging leaders; safety, security and international affairs; management excellence; science and environment; and COVID-19 response.
CBP formally established its Forced Labor Division in the Office of Trade in March 2018. Forced labor can occur at various points in the supply chain before ending up at a retailer, in a restaurant or in the composition of a product. An estimated 25 million people worldwide labor under human rights abuses including physical and sexual violence, debt bondage, and withholding of wages.
Since 2016, CBP has issued 32 Withhold Release Orders to prevent goods from entering the United States. The agency says it has stopped more than $350 million of goods suspected of being made by forced labor from entering U.S. commerce. CBP can also levy monetary penalties for certain forced labor offenses and refer cases to ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations. The agency also works with foreign governments to help strengthen efforts to end forced labor.
“Our forced labor team is committed to its mission and works exceptionally hard to investigate allegations of forced labor in U.S. supply chains,” said Executive Assistant Commissioner AnnMarie Highsmith in the Office of Trade. “The information that they uncover allows us to take strong enforcement actions to keep illicit goods out of our country, stores, and homes.”
Hinojosa, who has served in her current role since January 2020, formerly served as port director for Los Angeles International Airport and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, as well as CBP director of field operations in El Paso. She served as deputy assistant commissioner for the Office of International Affairs and then as director of compliance and facilitation for the World Customs Organization.
Choy has been serving since last month as acting deputy assistant secretary for Trade. Before beginning at CBP in October 2019, he served as chief of the Chemical Sector-Specific Agency at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Before joining DHS, Choy served for 23 years in the U.S. Army.
“The team’s efforts have made an impact on thousands of vulnerable workers and demonstrated the nation’s leadership in championing human rights,” said Brenda Smith, CBP’s former executive assistant commissioner for trade. “This division has placed a national spotlight on the issue of forced labor and the need for industry and consumer due diligence.”
Hinojosa stressed that she and Choy are “really representing a large group of our colleagues in Customs and Border Protection doing this important work — so we’re thrilled.”
“Our results have given a lot of people including the human-rights activists as well as civil society organizations a lot more confidence in the work that we’re doing and that enforcement action is going to be taken,” she said.
“We as a nation believe we shouldn’t be consuming or using materials or products on the back of forced labor,” Choy said, noting that “products that are produced with forced labor are produced at a cost of much cheaper labor so companies are able to sell these products at a much lower price, which undercuts American companies.”
Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller said he was “incredibly proud” of the team award. “Eliminating forced labor from U.S. supply chains is a priority for CBP and we remain dedicated to ending this egregious abuse of human rights,” he said.
Kari Johnstone, acting director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, said the CBP team “is innovative in its thinking about what kinds of law enforcement actions to take” and has been a “really an important piece of the federal government’s efforts to address human trafficking.”