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Senate Expands Jurisdiction to Fight Human Trafficking

On October 1, the Senate passed, by unanimous consent, the Trafficking in Persons Accountability Act (S. 1703), after adopting a substitute amendment, also by unanimous consent. 

Sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), the bill would grant United States courts the “extra-territorial jurisdiction” to prosecute cases of peonage, slavery, sales of persons into involuntary servitude, forced labor, trafficking in persons, and sex trafficking of children if the offender is a United States citizen or is a legal immigrant with permanent residence. Jurisdiction also would extend to cases where the offender is present in the U.S., regardless of his nationality. However, the bill would prohibit such prosecution if a foreign government has prosecuted the person for the offense. 

The substitute amendment, also sponsored by Sen. Durbin, removed the ten-year statute of limitations on such prosecutions in the original text of the legislation. 

Current law prohibits the Department of Justice from prosecuting human trafficking crimes unless they occur within the United States or are committed by a U.S. citizen abroad. Further, law enforcement currently may not prosecute a noncitizen found in the U.S. for human trafficking crimes committed abroad. 

Speaking on behalf of the bill, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said, “I am pleased that today the Senate has passed the Trafficking in Persons Accountability Act of 2007, which would improve our efforts to stop the abominable practice of human trafficking in the United States and around the world. This modern-day form of slavery forces, defrauds, or coerces victims into sexual or labor exploitation. It is the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprise and generates $9.5 billion annually, $4 billion of which goes to the prostitution industry. Nearly 1 million people, mostly women and children, are trafficked worldwide, including nearly 18,000 persons in the United States. This legislation would permit the Department of Justice to prosecute offenders of trafficking crimes abroad if they are present in the United States and punish human traffickers who attempt to seek refuge in this country. Nowhere on Earth should it be acceptable to deceive, abuse, and force a person into a life of enslavement. We should not tolerate human trafficking across our borders, nor should we allow trafficking offenders to seek a safe haven in our country. I commend subcommittee chairman Senator Durbin for introducing this legislation and for his hard work to combat human rights abuses worldwide.”

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