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Committee Examines Trafficking Law

On November 29, the House International Relations Committee held a hearing to discuss the implementation of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (P.L. 106-386). Committee Chair Henry Hyde (R-IL) noted that the act “provided a comprehensive plan of attack on the most egregious forms of trafficking in human beings: the buying and selling of women and children into the international sex industry, and the trafficking of men, women, and children alike into slavery and involuntary servitude.”

The law authorizes $95 million over two years for efforts to combat trafficking, including prevention activities, counseling and treatment services, food, shelter, translation and legal assistance to survivors, and monitoring efforts. The law authorizes the State Department to establish an Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, which would provide support for an interagency task force to address trafficking.

Additionally, the new law allows the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to provide temporary U.S. citizenship to survivors of international trafficking through the issuance of a newly created “T” visa. The law outlines the criteria under which individuals may qualify for the visa and caps the annual number of T visas issued at 5,000.

The final bill also authorizes foreign assistance to enable countries to meet minimum standards with respect to the elimination of trafficking. These standards include the drafting of laws to prohibit trafficking and punish traffickers, the investigation and prosecution of traffickers, the creation and maintenance of facilities, programs, projects, and activities for the protection of victims, and the expansion of exchange programs and international visitor programs for governmental and nongovernmental personnel to combat trafficking.

Under the bill, the State Department is required to report to Congress on whether countries are meeting the minimum standards. Countries are assigned to a three-tier system: tier one countries meet the minimum standards and are fully complying with those standards; tier two countries are not fully complying with the minimum standards but are making a significant effort to comply; and tier three countries are not fully complying with the minimum standards and are not making any effort to comply.

Beginning in 2003, the President will be required to withhold non-humanitarian and non-trade-related assistance from countries failing to meet the minimum standards. There are certain instances in which the President may waive the imposition of those sanctions such as if the sanctions would harm vulnerable populations.

An original sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), called the law “pro-women, pro-child, pro-human rights, and pro-anti-crime.” He expressed concern about the “slow pace of implementation” of the law, noting that the State Department had just recently established its trafficking office and that the Justice Department had not issued final regulations pertaining to the issuance of T visas.

The committee heard testimony from several federal agencies detailing their efforts to implement provisions of the law.

Paula Dobrianksy of the State Department detailed the agency’s efforts to date. As required by the new law, the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking was established on October 15. According to Ms. Dobriansky, the office will focus on “three key areas: the compilation and release of the trafficking in persons report; an assessment and implementation of programs; and outreach to partner agencies, Congress, and the non-governmental community.”

Additionally, the Department released its first annual Trafficking in Persons report in July. The report assessed the efforts of 82 countries in which trafficking was deemed a problem. Ms. Dobriansky told the committee that the report “has become an invaluable tool in our bilateral dialogues on trafficking.” She added that the State Department is establishing an Interagency Task Force, improving the collection of intelligence on trafficking, funding and implementing roughly 90 programs in over 30 countries, and conducting public outreach.

Ralph Boyd of the Department of Justice stated that in FY2001, the Department prosecuted 34 defendants and opened 64 investigations. “As of October 2001, we had 89 investigations pending, which represents a 19% increase over the number of pending investigations we had a year earlier and a three-fold increase since establishing our Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force toll-free hotline in February 2000.”

In addition to the toll-free hotline, the Department is creating a community outreach program to “work with local community groups, victims’ rights organizations, immigrants’ rights organizations, shelters, and other interested groups.” The Department also is undertaking programs to train prosecutors, police, and judges overseas to combat trafficking.

Mr. Boyd told the committee that the Department submitted an interim rule on the implementation of the T visas last week. In addressing the delay, he said, “In order to encourage input and feedback from affected communities, the INS conducted a series of stakeholders’ meetings with representatives from key federal agencies; national, state, and local law enforcement associations; non-profit, community-based victim rights organizations; and other groups.”

Wade Horn of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said that the agency has “developed a systematic approach to the certification of trafficking victims and the facilitation of their access to benefits and services.” In FY2001, the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement issued 196 certification letters to adults and 4 letters to minors under the age of 18. “The majority of victims, 87 percent, are female,” stated Mr. Horn, adding, “Although the 204 victims came from a variety of countries, a disproportionate number were from Vietnam (87 percent).”

HHS also awarded more than $1.25 million in grants to eight organizations throughout the United States. “Grant funds may be used for a wide range of services, including case management, temporary housing, special mental health needs (such as trauma counseling), legal assistance referrals, and cultural orientation,” he said.

Janet Ballantyne of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) told the committee that USAID provided roughly $6 million in FY2001 for direct anti-trafficking activities. “Approximately $2.5 million was obligated for the former Soviet Union and Central Asia. Another $1.3 million is being spent in Asia. Over $2 million is being spent on programs supporting assistance for trafficked children in Africa, cooperation between nongovernmental organizations and governments in Central Asia, and an examination of cross-border trafficking in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Ms. Ballantyne said.

While praising the law, Jessica Neuwirth of Equality Now also expressed concerns about delays in implementation, noting that it took a year to create a trafficking office within the State Department. She criticized the Justice Department for its delay in issuing interim regulations for the issuance of T visas. She said the delay “denied victims of trafficking access to the visa protection measures set forth in the legislation.”

Ms. Neuwirth also discussed divisions over definitions contained within the bill with regard to prostitution. Stating that the bill broadly defines sex trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act,” Ms. Neuwirth added that the definition was “consciously adopted by Congress in recognition of the inherently exploitive nature of the commercial sex industry.” As such, she called upon the administration to clarify its position on the legalization of prostitution, saying that the current policy is intended to “reflect a position of so-called ‘neutrality’ on the question of legalization of prostitution.”

During questioning, Ms. Dobriansky emphatically stated, “We oppose all forms of prostitution, including legalization of prostitution.”

Gary Haugen of International Justice Missions disputed the State Department’s characterization of its implementation of the law. Referring to the three-tier system that categorizes countries under the law, Mr. Haugen questioned the Department’s reasoning in assigning countries to a particular tier. He told the committee that his organization had conducted undercover operations to investigate trafficking in many of these countries and found that there were many violations. “Did the State Department let some of the worst offenders slip away to find shelter on tier 2? The answer is yes,” he said, adding that he could identify three countries listed on tier two as having a greater number of victims than all of the countries combined in tier three. In responding to the criticism, Ms. Dobriansky said, “We made our best effort in putting countries in the proper categories based on information that we had,” adding: “This is changing, and it will continue to change.”

The committee also heard emotional testimony from two women who were trafficked into the United States and forced into slave labor and prostitution.

 

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