Spanning a Career in Immigration and Customs Enforcement


During her career in ICE, Alumna Tonja Marshall switched from investigating commodities to saving human trafficking victims.

Tonja Marshall was planning on a career in corrections or as a criminologist when she took a “leap of faith” on a coop program with U.S. Customs Service. That detour in her plans led to a lifetime career with the evolving federal agency and a passion for saving victims of human trafficking in the U.S. and abroad.

“Don’t box yourself in and limit your opportunities,” said Marshall. “Don’t limit what you are willing to do with your career, even if you don’t see it as your forever job. Continue those leaps of faith throughout your career.”

In 1983, Marshall was accepted into a cooperative program with the U.S. Customs Service, a predecessor of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which was charged with investigating a host of criminal violations including financial and narcotics crimes across U.S. borders. Two years later, she became a special agent and traveled the country -- including Dallas, Washington, D.C., Miami and Houston – in pursuit of her career. During the last five years of her federal career, she was assigned to a human trafficking unit within ICE in Miami, which ignited a passion that continues to this day.

“The last five years was some of the most rewarding work I did,” said Marshall. “When I worked for the U.S. Customs Service, we dealt with commodities. When we merged with INS, I focused on human trafficking. We were dealing with human beings, not with narcotics and money.”

Just three weeks into her assignment with human trafficking, she helped dismantle a labor trafficking ring, where 35-40 Filipinos were found living in deplorable conditions while working at several local country clubs. She also helped rescue victims from the sex trade, first with victims coming from foreign countries and later with victims born in America. “You learn it is everywhere, and as an investigator you’re only limited by your creativity, your searching, recognizing, and acting on the information you have,” Marshall said.

Marshall said she will always remember two cases. In one, a Mexican woman was forced to work as a prostitute in the U.S. by her husband, who held their children captive in the home country as an incentive to keep her working. Marshall helped rescue the children from Mexico and was there at the airport when the mother was reunited with her children. In the second case, a Mexican woman was lured to the U.S. by a boyfriend and forced into the sex trade. The victim gave such an impassioned victim impact statement in court that it led to a rare increase in the maximum sentence by the judge. Although the three suspects plead guilty in exchange for 11 years in prison, the judge sentenced them to 15 years behind bars.

Marshall was the co-founder of the South Florida Human Trafficking Task Force, a collaboration among law enforcement, prosecutors, non-governmental organizations, faith-based agencies and concerned communities. She also successfully used restitution tools in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act that resulted in the awarding of $1.2 million to 10 sex trafficking victims and the rescuing of over 20 victims in the U.S. and Mexico. In 2012, she was named Law Enforcement Official of the Year by the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet. Marshall retired from ICE in 2014, but continues to work with law enforcement as a member of the Advisory Board of 1 Human Trafficking Coalition. She currently serves as Vice President/ Compliance Officer in the Global Investigations Unit at Citibank, N.A. in Fort Lauderdale, where she handle anti-money laundering compliance cases.

“I had a long career where I saw and did things most people only dream about,” said Marshall.

Member of The Texas State University System