An Atlanta-area woman says she’s upset with Delta Air Lines and U.S. Customs and Border Protection after she was mistaken for a human trafficking victim upon returning from an international vacation.
Stephanie Ung, 26, told WXIA that she and a friend had just returned from a trip to Cancun, Mexico, when they were stopped by Customs and Border Protection at the Atlanta airport and questioned for over an hour — which was just long enough for Ung to miss Thanksgiving dinner with her family.
"I just kept telling them that I wanted to go home for my family Thanksgiving dinner, and that they were making me late, but they just didn't care," Ung told the station through tears. "They just laughed."
According to WXIA, Ung was never told why she was being questioned, though she believes that she and her friend were racially profiled and subsequently suspected of being the victims of a trafficking operation.
"I know human trafficking is huge within the Asian community, right, and that's the only reason why I could see [them] stopping me. That and the fact that I was in a dress,” she told WXIA.
Ung wasn’t entirely wrong in her assumption, although Delta claims the incident had nothing to do with her ethnicity or dress. In a statement released by the airline, Delta claims that another passenger alerted the crew to a passport issue concerning the two women, which led them to believe a “human trafficking event” might be taking place.
“On a recent Delta flight from Cancun, two customers were observed by another customer to not be in possession of their passports — a possible indicator of a human trafficking event. Delta took the concern seriously and contacted the appropriate authorities who addressed the customers upon landing,” the airline said in a statement obtained by WXIA.
But while their suspicions turned out to be false, Delta insisted that its crew is trained to “practice best judgement to ensure the safety of all customers” and “look out for signs of possible trafficking.”
The airline also took umbrage with accusations of discrimination, adding that they have reached out to Ung and her friend to discuss the matter.
Ung, meanwhile, says she was in possession of her own passport throughout the flight, but still feels that Delta and the unknown passenger who alerted the crew should “mind [their] own business.”
That said, Delta isn’t the only airline that takes a proactive approach to human trafficking. In 2011, Alaska Airlines flight attendant Shelia Fedrick came to the aid of a teenage girl whom she suspected to be — and was indeed — the victim of a human trafficking operation. She, too, urged her fellow airline workers to follow their instincts in these situations.
“If you see something, say something,” said Fedrick when recalling the incident earlier this year.
In 2013, The Washington Post had further estimated that around 50,000 women and girls are the victims of similar trafficking operations bound for the United States every year, “mainly for prostitution.”