On Monday, Sung Hoon Ha, 30, was deported to South Korea after living in the U.S. for eight years. He had been caught operating a human smuggling ring in Washington state.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Ha in August just after he met up with a woman at the Tulalip casino parking lot, north of Seattle. He had charged the woman $8,000 to help her cross into the U.S.
Ha pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 137 days in jail and two years of supervised release – but his bigger punishment came on Monday when ICE deported him.
ICE Special Agent Todd Rignel works on smuggling and human trafficking cases and is based in the Puget Sound region.
“The problem is not as significant as you would see between Mexico and the United States but over the past few years, hundreds of immigrants have been arrested by Border Patrol agents attempting to illegally enter Washington state from the lower mainland of British Columbia,” Rignel said.
Most of the women Ha helped smuggle into the U.S. were involved in the sex trade, he said. That’s the case for many immigrants from Korea.
Smuggling, Rignel said, is a business venture.
“Once the smuggling event is over and the fees are paid, it’s done,” he said. “Trafficking is exploitation-based which involves force, fraud or coersion.”
As for what happens after a woman is smuggled in, Rignel said she may “end up in a trafficking situation down the road, especially if they end up in the sex trade.”
Rignel said sometimes the women are forced to pay back their fee, many times with interest, or penalties for some kind of behavior at a brothel or massage parlor. That’s where the situation can turn into a case of human trafficking.