The State Department confirms that federal law enforcement officials removed two potential human-trafficking victims from the home of a Saudi Arabian diplomat in Northern Virginia on Tuesday afternoon.
“The U.S. State Department is aware of this matter. Diplomatic Security is aware of the matter,” State Department spokesperson Patrick Ventrell told reporters on Wednesday. Ventrell said that the department was working with both the Justice and Homeland Security departments and specifically Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who is taking the lead on the case.
In a statement, ICE spokesman Brandon Montgomery told ABC news that its agents “did encounter two potential victims of human trafficking and the investigation is on-going.”
The department responsible for human-trafficking cases, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, focuses on a victim-centered approach. Agents rescue individuals first and then begin a full investigation, so that alleged victims don’t have to linger in potential abuse while the investigation is on-going.
A senior State Department official confirms that agents from Diplomatic Security, which is a division of the State Department, were with ICE agents during the raid. The official was not aware of any arrests made yet.
Should the diplomat be arrested he could claim diplomatic immunity, which shields foreign diplomats from criminal charges in the United States.
Ventrell would not specify whether the case falls under a diplomatic immunity qualification but said, “Diplomats are under a duty to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state” under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
“That’s something that holds true for diplomats here and that we hold true for our people … when they’re posted overseas,” said Ventrell. “In many instances, our folks face the legal system back here for issues that have arisen overseas.”