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July 2021

Farm workers deemed ‘essential’, tourists, not so much – International economy plays out differently for Yuma County

By International economics No Comments

The Yuma, Arizona pandemic experience is a story of two borders, each affecting a different part of the region’s economy.

To the south and west are the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California. Thousands of workers cross the border with Mexico, some seasonally and others every day – even during the pandemic – to help care for billions of dollars in produce grown in Yuma County. The county, known as the “Lettuce Capital of the United States,” produces 90% of the nation’s winter lettuce supply.

A thousand miles north, the Canadian border is the gateway for snowbirds to second homes and tourist attractions in Yuma County. These travelers and part-time residents have been stuck on the Canadian side of the border for 16 months, with money they would have spent in the local economy.

Last year, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said farm workers were essential, which means people living in Mexico who are employed in Yuma County on an H2-A (farm worker temporary) can cross the border for work, even if the border is closed to others. travelers.

Canadian tourists, of course, were not seen as essential workers, and their absence from the local economy piqued Yuma County.

“Everyone thinks the biggest border for us is the Mexican border,” said Kimberly Kahl, executive director of the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce. But for tourism in Yuma County, the Mexican border is less important. “For us, it’s the Canadian border that is important,” Kahl said.

Yuma County, which is a small metropolitan area in southwestern Arizona, saw a large influx of California tourists once the state opened up after the first months of the pandemic. But tourism has not reached the same level that Canadian snowbirds traditionally create, Kahl said.

“I think when the state opened up everyone wanted to travel a lot more,” she said. “I know some of our member hotels have been booked for a while over the weekend.”

Yuma County Courthouse in 2010. (Photo by Ken Lund via Flickr, Creative Commons)

Vaccination and borders

Vaccines were not a factor in this initial increase in domestic travel, as it began before Covid-19 vaccines became available.

But American vaccinations will play a role in opening international borders to tourists. Canada plans to open the border to American travelers on August 9, but only to those who are fully vaccinated.

The United States plans to reopen borders with Canada and Mexico on August 21. A first effort to open the borders this month was pushed back over fears of the growing number of Covid-19 cases in the United States. The increase is being fueled by the more contagious Delta variant of Covid-19, which is spread primarily through people who have not been fully vaccinated.

For its part, Yuma County vaccinated 48.6% of its population, placing the county in the top 15% of the country for vaccinations. More than 60% of the population aged 18 and over is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kahl said the chamber is working with both the Yuma County health department and its members to coordinate the vaccination of their employees. But most of their members are retail, restaurant and hospitality businesses, she said, not large-scale farm businesses.

Workers pick romaine lettuce in a field near Yuma, Ariz., November 23, 2012. (Photo by Peter Haden via Flickr, Creative Commons)

Reaching out to agricultural workers

Farm workers created a different set of problems for local health officials. Much of the agricultural workforce is migratory, which means it follows seasonal harvests in the United States. Some of this number are also immigrants. More than 9,000 temporary work visas were issued to farm workers in Arizona in 2020, most in Yuma County.

According to the Purdue University Food and Agriculture Vulnerability Index, 7,200 farm workers had tested positive for Covid-19 as of March 10. About 1,000 of them were in Yuma County. The county of about 214,000 residents has recorded more than 74,000 Covid-19 infections in total and more than 850 Covid-related deaths, according to the CDC.

Authorities and health partners have made efforts to immunize migrant workers.

Amanda Aguirre, executive director of the Regional Border Health Center, said her clinic, as well as the health ministry, were working with the largest agricultural companies to get workers vaccinated. This included taking workers to the drive-thru vaccination clinics.

But many have moved on. While many of the larger farms worked with the Yuma County health center and department to get their workers vaccinated, there was a lot of resistance to getting vaccinated from migrant workers, Aguirre said.

In addition, migrant workers in the United States have a harder time accessing vaccines, according to the Migrant Clinicians Network.

As demand for the vaccine dwindles, Aguirre said she still works with companies and others to gain information about vaccines and their importance.

“We’re trying to develop campaigns to reach out… and keep testing and vaccinating,” she said. “We are creating educational campaigns to reach the people who are very hesitant to get vaccinated right now… those families who are still hard to reach but who are also hesitant to get vaccinated among the Hispanic-American families living in the region.

Aguirre said his fear was that one of the variants of the virus would take hold in the region before enough people were vaccinated.

“I don’t want to reflect Europe,” she said. “They opened and then closed again because of the variations. I think the difference is that we have vaccines and we have time. “

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ATII Special Report – How Human Traffickers Exploit the International Economy: Cryptocurrencies, Banks and Credit Cards (part 2 of 4) – CFCS

By International economics No Comments

Cryptocurrency: Criminals and Buyers Turn to Virtual Value for Muddy Money Trail

Cryptocurrency is a digital currency that is increasingly coveted by criminals for its pseudo-anonymous and almost untraceable nature.

Examples include Bitcoin, the world’s most popular cryptocurrency, Ethereum, and Dogecoin.

Cryptocurrencies are used by traffickers to buy advertisements and by sex buyers to purchase premium subscriptions on review board websites.

These are member-only platforms where users of illicit sex operations – whether individual sex worker or, say, illegal massage parlor – rank will, depth of depravity. and the price of workers.

In a growing number of cases, trafficking groups are combining several laundering techniques to make it as difficult as possible for individual banks, prepaid card operators, virtual money exchanges and law enforcement investigators to bring them all together. elements of the financial network and related money laundering. cycles.

For example, some traffic networks will buy prepaid open-loop cards – like a gift card that acts and looks like a debit or credit card for a payment processor – just below the ID thresholds, essentially making them anonymous.

The group will then use them to buy virtual currencies and move more of their value through exchanges with weak anti-money laundering (AML) controls and in jurisdictions plagued with corruption and historically lax compliance defenses. fight against crime.

To this end, FinCEN has issued warnings regarding traffickers using multiple layers of payment as well as cryptocurrency to protect their identity, as a recent case study shows.

Case Study: Welcome to the Video – The Financial Networks Behind Child Exploitation

Human traffickers and other groups who find and share illicit images of exploited children earn at least hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by selling the acts themselves and enjoying the images and videos – vile media that is even illegal to own in most countries. .

The “Welcome to Video” website, which was a platform for child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on the dark web, managed membership through a cryptocurrency-based points system.

To ensure users had a stake in the effort – and to avoid possible law enforcement infiltration – in order to view more videos, members had to either upload their own new content (earn points for the number of views of other members), or pay for new videos using Bitcoin.

Federal authorities shut down the site in 2018, but many other sites subsequently developed as replacements.

To fight against traffickers, protect children, country FIUs unite

More broadly, banks are trying to come together to better identify transaction patterns related to the exploitation of children, particularly related to online streaming.

This is one of the goals set by the Egmont group of Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs), which includes many of the world’s largest countries.

The group, in a joint project by Austrac, Australia, UKFIU, UK and AMLC, Philippines, is working with INTERPOL and FIUs around the world to better understand the financial and banking components of online streaming. child sexual abuse and exploitation material (CSAE).

To view the group’s findings which have just been published, click on here.

The Egmont Group report also noted the potential involvement of organized crime in such exploitation networks.

“In disadvantaged communities, online streaming offers a financial incentive to criminal networks, which creates a commercial element for the CSAE,” according to the group.

“The illicit business models associated with this activity, where offenders pay to view CSAE material online, mean there is a trail of money in the form of payments and profits. “

Although it is noted that a lack of significant profits means that the large-scale involvement of organized crime groups (OCGs) is likely to be limited, there is “evidence of criminal business structures in developing countries exploiting business opportunities presented by CSAE’s online broadcast. . “

Case Study: West Side City Crips and Payments Stratification Via Prepaid Crypto

Beyond international organized crime groups, low-level street gangs have also used online advertising, and the added complexities of virtual value, to monetize skin and sin.

In April 2016, federal investigators discovered members of the West Side City Crips gang in Phoenix, Arizona, who trafficked women at a motel in El Paso, Texas.

Homeland Security Investigations found evidence via a gang member’s cell phone and Bitcoin wallet that the group was buying Vanilla Visa prepaid credit cards, using those prepaid cards to buy Bitcoin, and using those bitcoins to buy coins. Sexual ads on the now defunct online classifieds site, Backpage.

Federal agencies seized and shut down Backpage and its affiliated websites in April 2018, with the founders and five others charged with federal charges of facilitating prostitution and using foreign banks to hide income.

The bust roughly coincided with pressure from the US government and the President’s signing of a pair of laws – the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) – which added tougher penalties for sites knowingly supporting prostitution or sex trafficking. .

By some estimates, the specter of the new laws and the exit of dominant player Backpage from the market led to a more than 80% drop in online sex ad revenue – a chasm that was nearly bridged a few months later with revenue rebounding by around 75%, based on law enforcement scans and industry estimates.

Likewise, banks have had to adapt quickly, knowing that when criminals lose one way to sell sex, they quickly find another.

With the fall of Backpage, other sites, such as “Skip the Games” among others, have seen an increase in their use, allegedly by groups of organized criminals, traffickers and sex workers, according to media reports. reports.

The site advertises itself as a dating platform, although it is full of photos of scantily clad women, some cheeky enough to detail the sexual services they are willing to engage in – not to mention the prices.

Prosecutors say the site benefits greatly from sex, while company officials say they cannot always control the infiltration of illicit trafficking groups due to limited resources and, on the contrary, help and respond regularly. requests for information and assistance from the police.

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