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Senate Hearing Focuses on Implementation of New Trafficking Law

The Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs held a March 7 hearing to discuss the implementation of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (P.L. 106-386), which was signed into law in October 2000. A similar hearing was held by the House International Relations Committee on November 30. For detailed information about provisions of the law, please refer to that hearing (see The Source, 11/30/01).

Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN), a cosponsor of the original legislation, presided over the hearing. Noting the importance of combating trafficking, Sen. Wellstone said, “We need to learn whether or not we’re doing all we can.” Specifically, he expressed concern that victims were not being recognized as victims of trafficking and as a result were not getting the assistance they needed. He shared his disappointment that the “message may not be getting through.”

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), also a cosponsor of the bill, said that combating trafficking was high on the Administration’s list of priorities. Noting that the intent of the law was to empower individuals, Sen. Brownback said, “We are excited about what’s taking place….We want to continue moving forward.”

Several agencies updated the subcommittee on their efforts to implement the law. Representing the newly established Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the State Department, Nancy Ely-Raphael said that the State Department is “actively implementing” the provisions of law. She noted that the office released its first annual trafficking in persons report in July 2001, saying that the report “has proven to be an invaluable tool in raising the profile of trafficking throughout the world and spurring countries to take action.” Responding to earlier criticism about the information presented in the report, Ms. Ely-Raphael said that the office has now launched an e-mail address for non-governmental and international organizations to send trafficking information directly to the office. “This change we believe will allow more direct engagement by the non-governmental organizations as well as enhance transparency.”

Additionally, during FY2001, the State Department spent an estimated $11.5 million to support and implement over 100 trafficking-related programs and initiatives in approximately 40 countries. Ms. Ely-Raphael added that the office will continue to work with eligible countries to address trafficking in persons.

In terms of outreach, Ms. Ely-Raphael stated that the office is “working to institutionalize anti-trafficking training for our foreign and civil service officers, ambassadors, and other U.S. government officials.”

Viet D. Dinh of the Department of Justice (DoJ) said that the law “creates new tools that enhance the Department’s ability to prosecute traffickers, and it allows us to assist trafficking victims in ways not possible before passage.” Stating that “the fight against human trafficking” is a “top priority” for the Department, Mr. Dinh said that additional resources have been “allocated for prosecution, outreach, and coordination.”

In FY2002, an additional 12 new positions within the Civil Rights Division at the DoJ will be dedicated to prosecuting trafficking in persons cases. Currently, there are 92 investigations pending, and 34 cases were prosecuted in FY2001. Additionally, the Attorney General recently signed an interim regulation that detailed the procedures for application and issuance of the newly created T visas for victims of trafficking.

The Department will permanently fund the Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force toll-free hotline, which was established under the law and has been in place since February 2000. Additionally, the DoJ will undertake several outreach initiatives this year, including the release of interagency trafficking in persons brochures, roundtables with non-governmental organizations and law enforcement groups, and expanded public presentations on trafficking.

Nguyen Van Hanh of the Office of Refugee Settlement within the Administration for Children and Families at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also stated that HHS has “acted quickly to implement our responsibilities.” In FY2001, the office issued 194 certification letters to adults and 4 letters to children declaring that the individuals are eligible for assistance under the new law. Dr. Hanh noted that 82 percent of the victims are female and 18 percent are male.

Additionally, HHS awarded “more than $1.25 million in 17-month discretionary grants to eight organizations throughout the United States” in FY2001. Dr. Hanh noted that the grants could be used for a “wide range of services,” such as case management, temporary housing, special mental health needs, legal assistance referrals, and cultural orientation.

Dr. Hanh also said that HHS has been “actively involved in outreach efforts aimed at immigrant and refugee communities, non-governmental organizations, voluntary agencies, state and local social service providers, state and local law enforcement, the general public, and other federal and state government officials.” HHS is also developing plans to conduct a public awareness campaign.

While praising the legislation’s intent, several advocacy groups spoke about their concerns with the implementation of the law. Hae Jun Cho of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) said that the law “is a great leap forward for victim protections” but “there are many victims who remain in desperate situations” and detailed the “challenges ahead” as the law is implemented.

Specifically, Ms. Cho pointed to a “lack of resources, manpower and training to move forward the investigation and prosecution of these cases.” Additionally, she noted that federal agents and U.S. attorneys lacked training on how to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases; that there was a lack of sensitivity to victim issues by law enforcement; and that there was a lack of interagency coordination. She also criticized the inconsistency with respect to implementing victim assistance under the law. “There is no transparency and no accountability,” she said.

Ms. Ann Jordan of the Initiative Against Trafficking in Persons at the International Human Rights Law Group agreed, adding, “Investigations and prosecutions appear to have slowed down.” Additionally, “Processing time for continued presence or other status work authorizations for trafficking victims is often extremely slow” and “training for INS and FBI agents and Assistant U.S. Attorneys should proceed more rapidly.”

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