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House Committee Approves Trafficking Bill

On April 4, the House Judiciary Committee approved, by voice vote, a bill (H.R. 3244) designed to curtail international trafficking in women and children. The bill was first approved by the House International Relations Committee on November 9, 1999, but contains several immigration provisions that fall under the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee (see The Source, 11/12/99, p. 3).

Overall, the bill would authorize $94.5 million over two years for efforts to combat international trafficking, including prevention activities, counseling and treatment services, food, shelter, translation and legal assistance for victims, and monitoring efforts. Of this amount, $4.5 million would be authorized for the creation of an interagency task force within the State Department to address trafficking.

Sponsored by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Sam Gejdenson (D-CT), the bill would prohibit the “purchase, sale, recruitment, harboring, transportation, transfer or receipt of a person for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, or slavery-like practices which is effected by force, coercion, fraud or deception.” H.R. 3244 also would impose economic sanctions on countries failing to meet minimum standards with respect to trafficking.

As introduced, H.R. 3244 would allow the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to provide temporary U.S. citizenship to survivors of trafficking through the issuance of a newly created “T” visa category. Survivors of international trafficking who cooperate with U.S. law enforcement or who face retribution in their home countries would qualify for the visa. The INS also would have the discretion to extend the visas to spouses, children, and parents of the survivor.

During subcommittee action on March 8, the visa eligibility provision was narrowed to apply to only survivors of sexual trafficking who were 16 years-old and younger. Additionally, family members of the survivor would not be eligible for the visas (see The Source, 3/10/00, p. 2).

Members of the full committee reversed that action on April 4 when they approved, by voice vote, a substitute amendment, sponsored by Reps. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and Charles Canady (R-FL), that would eliminate the age restriction and would expand visa eligibility to all survivors of trafficking. Trafficking survivors who cooperate with U.S. law enforcement, face retribution, or suffer extreme hardship if deported from the U.S. would qualify for the visa. Family members would be granted visas if the Attorney General deemed “it necessary to avoid extreme hardship.”

Citing his original concerns that broader eligibility would constitute a “massive amnesty program for illegal aliens,” Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims Chair Smith said that the amendment reflected a compromise between him and bill sponsors that “allows relief for those at greatest risk for retribution.” Ranking Democrat John Conyers (D-MI) complimented Rep. Smith for the substitute, saying, “It has come a long way.”

The amendment also would place a cap on the number of individuals allowed to receive the “T” visa at 5,000 each year. Rep. Canady said that the cap reflected “a balanced approach to not having an explosion in the numbers of immigrants.” However, Democrats expressed concern about the cap and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) offered a perfecting amendment that would have granted the Attorney General discretion to lift the cap on an emergency basis when the humanitarian needs of an individual are exceptional. The amendment was defeated, 14-16. The committee also defeated two amendments by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). One amendment would have removed the extreme hardship standard for family members to qualify for the “T” visa. The amendment was defeated, 14-16. The other amendment would have deleted the words “in connection with trafficking” from the bill. The amendment was defeated by voice vote.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) was successful in eliminating minor children from the extreme hardship standard. The committee approved the amendment by unanimous consent.

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