Alina Marquez Reynolds – Grace Farms Foundation
The arrests draw headlines for a time—perhaps it’s an online sting operation where men expect to meet girls and young women for sex.
Perhaps it’s a raid at a business that’s illegally employing workers and cheating them on wages while forcing them to work in unsafe conditions.
Another world away, it may be the seizure of elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns that can be ground into powder for “cures” for cancer or hangovers or to enhance virility.
According to the Grace Farms Foundation, trafficking people for sex and labor or trafficking wildlife parts is immensely profitable—forced labor and human trafficking are an estimated $150 billion industry. Illicit ivory sales bring as much as $23 billion.
Alina Marquez Reynolds is general counsel and deputy director of Grace Farms Foundation’s Justice Initiative. After almost 30 years of prosecuting violent crime cases, including intimate partner violence and human trafficking cases for local and federal agencies, she joined the nonprofit in 2019 to be reunited with Rod Khattabi, a former U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigations agent.
He leads the Justice Initiative and together, they’re bringing law enforcement agencies, social service providers and private businesses together to fight exploitation and violence on common fronts.
“I have been able to use my legal career to give back,” Marquez Reynolds says. “I’ve been lucky and privileged to do that because of the great partners, mentors and colleagues I’ve worked with who help me elevate the profession. It’s about partnerships and collaboration and helping others who deserve an opportunity for justice.”
Collaborating for good
Grace Farms Foundation was founded to “pursue peace through nature, arts, justice, community and faith,” according to its website. Its 80-acre campus in New Canaan, Connecticut, opened in 2015.
Designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa’s SANAA architecture studio, the campus includes the meandering, glass enclosed River building with a 700-seat amphitheater, library, pavilion and commons. There’s also the West Barn, which features an art studio, a rehearsal space and meeting space.
Grace Farms hosts on-site art camps and book groups for children, space grants for nonprofit organizations and Justice Initiative programs featuring guest speakers, panel discussions and workshops. For instance, Marquez Reynolds guided a session with UN Women in May 2022 on eliminating gender-based violence in sports and a second convening in autumn 2022 with the United Nations Population Fund on preventing online violence against women.
“These crimes are very different kinds of crimes to investigate and prosecute and require a multi-disciplinary approach. So much of human trafficking, including forced labor is hidden in plain sight,” she says.
Much of the Justice Initiative’s training and programs are done offsite in three-to-five-day sessions—even in Africa as it fights wildlife trafficking. Khattabi and Marquez Reynolds routinely meet with law enforcement, social service providers, community members and business owners affected by trafficking whether it’s sex trafficking, forced labor or illegal wildlife trade.
Gaining a survivor’s trust requires addressing the trauma, she says. So training, whether on-campus or off, helps build the teams necessary to combat trafficking. Marquez Reynolds has plenty of experience here. As an assistant district attorney for the Kings County District Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, she was a founding member of a specialized prosecution unit for domestic violence. As an assistant U.S. Attorney in Connecticut, she coordinated outreach, training and enforcement of the Violence Against Women Act.
Marquez Reynolds says an effective team needs counselors for mental and behavioral health, and addiction. Training includes classroom lectures and discussions and practical, hands-on exercises, like mock interviews and mock use of investigative techniques like phone analysis and search warrants. Khattabi is also conducting controlled delivery practical training that can enable authorities to determine the full scope of the criminal enterprises and who’s leading the trafficking operations.
A global effort
In May, Khattabi was among the leaders of a weeklong session in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He was joined by representatives from the Lusaka Agreement Task Force and the University of Washington to train law enforcement and conservation officials on sharing information and tactics such as controlled delivery of ivory and other animal parts.
The training session was funded by organizations including the United Nations Development Programme, U.S. Agency for International Development, Global Wildlife Program and Global Environment Facility.
Marquez Reynolds says wildlife, human and drug trafficking are frequently comingled and traffickers take advantage of poor communication and mistrust between enforcement agencies.
“Rod built it and started overseas outreach using some of our same networks because wildlife and sex trafficking and drug trafficking are interconnected,” Marquez Reynolds says.
Her personal journey resonates in her work to fight exploitation. As the daughter of Cuban emigres who became naturalized U.S. citizens, Marquez Reynolds grew up in Pennsylvania as well as Puerto Rico and Venezuela, where she attended high school.
“A big part of my perspective is on how lucky we were to be able to come to the United States to start a new life and have these opportunities,” she says.
Marquez Reynolds earned her bachelor’s degree in American Studies form Georgetown University and her J.D. from Boston College Law School. After graduating law school, she spent five years with the King’s County District Attorney’s Office. In 1995, she joined the U.S. Department of Justice as an assistant U.S. attorney, and became manager of its Bridgeport, Connecticut, office in 2007.
Married to a former federal prosecutor, Marquez Reynolds is raising two sons while enjoying her opportunity to bring agencies together to help victims and survivors.
“The niche we have is in creating and enhancing public-private partnerships and we emphasize the importance of working together,” Marquez Reynolds says. “Because we come from law enforcement, we’re looking to create new partnerships.”
* Rod recently started a new position at CMA-CMG as a Senior Manager in the Security Department.
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer IV 2023 Edition here.
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