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Human Trafficking Subject of Judiciary Committee Hearing

On October 31, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing, “Combating Modern Slavery: Reauthorization of Anti-Trafficking Programs.” The hearing focused on efforts to strengthen the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2007 (H.R. 3887). The House Committee on Foreign Affairs approved the measure on October 23 (see The Source, 10/26/07).

Chair John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) said, “The promise of freedom that the Thirteenth Amendment makes is a promise written in the suffering of all of those who have been held in bondage. Sadly, involuntary servitude lives on in this country, long after Emancipation Day. Freedom can only be delivered through vigilance. The Civil Rights Movement could only occur after the chains of peonage and exploitation had been broken in the late 1940s by the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Section, all working together. The same type of collaboration is happening today, with non-profit groups and the government working together to confront trafficking for modern slavery. Here in Congress, we must work to ensure that they have the tools they need to fulfill the living promise of the Thirteenth Amendment. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act [TVPA] of 2000 (P.L. 106-386) was a groundbreaking bipartisan effort to update our involuntary servitude statutes and create victim protections.”

Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-TX) said, “When we first created the anti-trafficking programs and immigration benefits for trafficking victims…I tried to ensure that these programs would not be subject to fraud and abuse, and would actually help in the prosecution and conviction of human traffickers…H.R. 3887 shreds the carefully negotiated and written standards of the original bill.” He continued, “It eliminates the requirement that a T visa [a visa issued to certain human trafficking victims who cooperate with law enforcement against those responsible for their enslavement] applicant must incur ‘unusual and severe harm’ if subject to removal. The bill allows the secretary of Homeland Security to stay the removal of a T visa applicant if the application ‘sets forth a prima facie case for approval.’ Such a low threshold of proof may result in many stays of removal for illegal aliens with dubious trafficking claims. In addition, the bill requires the secretary of Homeland Security, when deciding whether the T visa applicant would suffer ‘extreme hardship’ if removed from the U.S., to consider whether the applicant’s country of removal ‘can adequately address security concerns and the mental and physical health needs of the alien’ and their family. Many countries are unlikely to meet such standards.”

Laurence Rothenberg, the deputy assistant attorney general of the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice said, “The TVPA enhanced three aspects of federal government activity to combat TIP [Trafficking in Persons]: protection, prosecution, and prevention. The TVPA provided for a range of new protections and assistance for victims of trafficking in persons; it expanded the crimes and enhanced the penalties available to federal investigators and prosecutors pursuing traffickers; and it expanded the U.S. Government’s international activities to prevent victims from being trafficked. Reauthorizing the TVPA is therefore vital to the department’s continued success in fighting human trafficking.” Mr. Rothenberg also noted, “Our intensified efforts to combat the evil of human trafficking have required us to correct some confusion in the popular media and elsewhere concerning human trafficking…Human trafficking requires the use of force, fraud, coercion, or exploiting a juvenile’s [innocence] by a trafficker to compel a person into labor, services, or commercial sex acts.” Moreover, survivors must be able to prove their trafficker’s use of “force, fraud, or coercion.”

Marcy Forman, director of the Office of Investigations at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security, said, “Human trafficking cases require law enforcement agencies to be victim-oriented. ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] has trained and deployed over 300 victim-witness coordinators. The testimony of victims is critical to successful prosecutions. Victims are our best evidence of the crime; yet a victim should not, and cannot, be treated as a piece of evidence. While we know that the long-term care of victims is, and should be, in the hands of NGOs [non-governmental organizations], we in law enforcement also have a responsibility to treat victims fairly, with compassion, and with attention to their needs. ICE, in conjunction with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, are the sole agencies charged with providing short-term immigration relief, which is called “Continued Presence” and allows certified victims of trafficking to remain in the United States…Continued Presence or the award of a T visa allows the Department of Health and Human Services to ‘certify’ victims so that they can access federal benefits and services to the same extent as refugees.”

“Katya,” a trafficking survivor from Ukraine shared her story. She said, “I found out about a summer program that would allow me to work in the United States and study English. I was very excited. I applied for the program and obtained a student visa. I found out that I would be working as a waitress in Virginia Beach.” Upon arriving in the United States, three men she recognized from Ukraine met her at the airport. “They told me that I would no longer be going to Virginia, but not to worry because they had worked things out and I would be going to Detroit. They gave me a bus ticket to Detroit…Once I got off the bus in Detroit, everything changed. They took me to a hotel and took all of my identity documents from me. They told me that they needed them in order to get a state identification card for me. They told me that I owed them $12,000 for travel to the United States and $10,000 for the identification document, and that I only had a short time to pay them off. I quickly learned how I would have to pay it off. They told me I was going to have to work at a strip club. They forced me to work six days a week for twelve hours a day. I could not refuse to go to work or I would be beaten. I had to hand over all of my money to [them]. I was often yelled at for not making enough money or had a gun put to my face. Every week I handed over around $3,000 to $4,000 to [them]. I was their slave.” Katya and another survivor were able to escape with the help of a client from the strip club. Later, their testimony against their traffickers helped in the conviction of the two men.

Dorchen Leidholt, executive director of the Sanctuary for Families’ Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services, said, “…traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion, but their victims are too terrified to testify about it, often because the traffickers threatened to harm family members abroad. The need to prove force, fraud, or coercion makes it all but impossible for any sex trafficking prosecution to go forward without a victim willing and able to take the stand, to testify at length about her abuse and sexual exploitation, and to undergo brutal and humiliating cross-examination. When victims facing such an ordeal refuse to testify, as they often do, prosecutorial strategies to force them to testify often only serve to deepen their trauma and may even result in testimony that is beneficial to the trafficker.” Ms. Leidholt continued, “Requiring prosecutors to prove force, fraud, or coercion wrongly puts the onus on victims — who must be proved ‘innocent’ of willingly having engaged in prostitution — rather than on traffickers, whose criminal actions should be the focus of prosecutions. Much as prosecutors once had to prove ‘earnest resistance’ in rape cases to show the victim was worthy, prosecutors in sex trafficking cases have to prove force, fraud, and coercion to demonstrate the bona fides of the trafficking victims. Even worse, requiring prosecutors to prove force, fraud, or coercion places victims and their families abroad in greater danger. The smartest and most ruthless traffickers realize that using violence and threats of violence brutal enough to terrorize victims into silence is a good business practice. As long as force, fraud, and coercion are elements of the offense, the worse traffickers are, [and] the more unreachable they remain.”

Also testifying were Florrie Burke, human trafficking consultant with the City of New York; Anastasia Brown, director of Refugee Programs, Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Dr. Amy Farrell of the Institute on Race and Justice at Northeastern University; and Bradley Myles, national program director of the Polaris Project.

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