Immigration and Customs Enforcement joined in the pre-Super Bowl hype on Tuesday, not to pick between the Eagles and the Patriots but to release a pump-up video for their own efforts: going after a Super Bowl human trafficking spike that experts largely agree doesn’t exist.
According to ICE’s website, its Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit “will be playing its best defense” to help protect the “millions” of fans it expects in Minneapolis for the game. The ICE website also says it’s been "a constant presence at the Super Bowl for many years.”
“HSI works with its law enforcement partners to provide safety and security to those in attendance and target criminal enterprises that exploit the Super Bowl to promote human trafficking and the illegal manufacturing and sale of counterfeit goods,” the website reads. ICE did not respond to a request for comment.
The NFL also did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment, but it told Sports Illustrated in 2017 it monitors the topic.
“We have not done our own research on hard data after Super Bowls, but we work closely with local law enforcement and groups on this issue,” said spokesperson Brian McCarthy.
McCarthy previously said in 2011 the alleged spike around the Super Bowl host cities was “urban legend” and “pure pulp fiction,” according to The Village Voice.
While politicians like Republican Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas have called the Super Bowl “the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States,” and hosts cities have boosted resources to handle any spike, experts say the hype is overblown, and the regular reports of sex busts during the Super Bowl are taken out of context.
The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, a coalition of NGOs, wrote in 2014 that public figures often use this sort of hype to justify their own interests, whether it’s anti-immigration sentiment or support and funding for law enforcement.
“Although this always generates a lot of media attention, action by anti-prostitution groups and law enforcement, and funding for anti-trafficking activities by state actors and NGOs, there is no evidence to support the claim,” they said.
A 2017 investigation by Sports Illustrated into the topic found that evidence of this phenomenon ranges “from fuzzy to nonexistent,” with law enforcement officials touting arrest numbers as tied to the Super Bowl when they’re often similar to the number of trafficking arrests during other periods or tied to previous investigations that didn’t have to do with the big game.
Even the local officials in Minneapolis aren’t that concerned about a big spike. Minneapolis Police Sergeant Grant Snyder, who heads the department’s Human Trafficking Team, told the Minneapolis City Council that research and past experiences from law enforcement don't support the belief that sex traffickers flood the host city during Super Bowl week, MPR reported.
Super Bowl 52 will be played Feb. 4 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots.
Cover image: General view of the U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings and Super Bowl LII on February 4, 2018 Super Bowl LII preparations, Minneapolis, USA - 29 Dec 2017 (Rex Features via AP Images)