2014 Release Event of the Trafficking in Persons Report
By Florrie Burke, Freedom Network Chair Emeritus
Each June for 14 years the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP Office) at the Department of State releases their annual report. The report assesses the response to human trafficking by governments around the world. It serves as a report card and a road map for the future. One hundred, eighty-eight governments were looked at this year. There are four rankings – Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List and Tier 3. This years’ report downgraded Venezuela, Malaysia, and Thailand to Tier 3.
The report also features TIP heroes – people from various parts of the world that have made significant contributions to combating human trafficking. The American Bar Association (ABA) held a side event the day before the report rollout to give the heroes an opportunity to discuss their work. This was a highlight. Ten heroes – ten countries. The following countries were represented: The Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, Republic of Korea, Lebanon, Nepal, Nigeria, Peru, Romania, Trinidad and Tobago, and Vietnam.
Each of the heroes does amazing work, and it was interesting to hear about challenges similar to ours – the need for buy-in from law enforcement, a different approach to forced prostitution, the need to define labor trafficking, shelter, and other services for victim-survivors. It was especially gratifying to hear a young Judge from Nepal talk about how he has instituted victim-centered practices in his country.
Freedom Network (USA) member Laura Germino from Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and I talked with the hero from India, Bhanuja Sharan Lal, who is working to dismantle systems of trafficking in the brick kilns and quarries. He has set up shelter and schooling for children freed from forced labor.
On the morning of June 20th hundreds crowded into the beautiful Benjamin Franklin Room at the Department of State. Members of Congress, representatives from many federal agencies such as the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Justice, Homeland Security, and others were there. NGOs, faith-based organizations, and many others who work on the issue of combating human trafficking and providing services to survivors were represented. Freedom Network members Maja Hasic from Tapestri, Avaloy Lanning from Safe Horizon, Laura Germino and Julia Perkins from CIW, and I were there.
Sarah Sewall, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights spoke first and reminded us “it takes a global village to fight a global crime.”
Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca spoke about this year’s theme, The Journey from Victim to Survivor. This is part three of the narrative arc that began in the 2012 report with emphasis on a Victim-Centered Approach and then Victim Identification. Freedom Network members are gratified at this emphasis and have contributed important feedback to the creation of the narrative portion of the reports.
Secretary of State, John Kerry, introduced the Trafficking in Persons Report 2014 and made some critical statements. He said, “This is not just a report, this is a call to action.” When addressing supply chains, he said, “This is not just about products, it is also about lines of responsibility.” For many in the room who travel internationally, it was important to be reminded that wherever we go in the world, we have to raise the issue as there is no greater threat to human dignity and assault on freedom as human trafficking.
Secretary Kerry also talked about the new initiative, Made in a Free World. This is an outgrowth of Slavery Footprint and partners with the J/TIP Office to look at slavery from all perspectives and to give consumers and citizens a chance to do something about it.
Some new information in the report was an emphasis on vulnerable populations such as indigenous peoples and LBGT individuals. There is also an interesting piece on the intersection of human trafficking and environmental degradation.
As Freedom Network members, we often struggle with issues related to the media – how to use it to our advantage and how to involve survivors. The 2014 TIP Report includes some helpful ‘Media Best Practices.’
In addition to the country reports, there is a great deal of rich information.
It is both exciting and discouraging to read the report and attend these events – as the TIP hero from Trinidad and Tobago, Charmaine Gandhi-Andrews, said, “Despite global efforts, human trafficking goes unabated. We cannot become complacent. We have to be relentless.”
My Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons was completed in May 2014, so I decided this was a perfect place to wear it!
Read more about the Freedom Network’s contributions and feedback to the J/TIP Office’s annual report.
The Freedom Network recently provided feedback for the Trafficking in Persons Report, to be released by the U.S. Department of State in June 2014. To download the comments as a PDF, click here.
The Freedom Network (USA), which was established in 2001, is a coalition of 35 non-governmental organizations and individual experts that provide services to, and advocate for the rights of, trafficking survivors in the United States. Since the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), Freedom Network (USA) members have worked closely with trafficked people to ensure that they receive necessary services guaranteed under the TVPA and have also been engaged in ensuring effective implementation of the law. The Freedom Network, through its members, has served a large percentage of individuals certified by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons. Freedom Network members also have successfully advocated for justice on behalf of trafficking survivors through immigration relief, civil litigation, and other legal remedies. We are recognized experts on the scourge of human trafficking and for twelve years have held annual national conferences for service providers, policy advocates, government officials, and law enforcement to share resources and information and to collectively formulate strategies to combat human trafficking. The Freedom Network has adopted a rights-based framework, which our members apply to their anti-trafficking services, outreach, collaborations, and trainings. As such, the Freedom Network is uniquely positioned to speak to the real-life challenges faced by trafficked people in the United States.
The Freedom Network applauds the continued commitment of the United States Government to improve upon its efforts to fight human trafficking here and abroad. We are pleased that an assessment of anti-trafficking efforts in the United States will be incorporated into the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report for the fifth consecutive year. Having sought input from our entire membership, we offer information about successes as well as areas of improvement in light of the recommendations made in the 2013 TIP Report and our experience and understanding as service providers. Through these comments, we hope our reflections will provide concrete opportunities for the U.S. government to continue to improve its efforts as we move forward.
I. EXISTING LAWS AND PROCEDURES
Congress passed, and the President signed, a reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the Violence Against Women Act. The TVPA is the heart of anti-trafficking law in the United States. VAWA provides much needed support to victims of domestic violence and is vital to protecting trafficking victims. With the 2013 reauthorization, Congress added important new protections including language for combatting fraud in foreign labor contracting, prohibiting misuse of immigration documents, and examining foreign government’s regulation of foreign labor recruiters.
The 2013 Reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act expanded U visa eligibility for victims of fraud in foreign labor contracting. This expansion will help facilitate investigations into visa fraud, trafficking, and forced labor by employers, and will provide much needed immigration relief for vulnerable and exploited workers.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Vermont Service Center (VSC) is processing applications more rapidly. VSC has hired many new adjudicators over the past year, allowing VSC to process backlogged applications and, often, to speed adjudications of visa applications for trafficking survivors. Receiving immigration status and work authorization are key steps in a survivor’s journey to self-sufficiency and a sense of control over his/her life. VSC’s new hires open the door to more efficient application processing; and the Freedom Network commends VSC for this capacity-building.
The Department of Defense, General Services Administration, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration proposed new regulations to strengthen protections against trafficking in persons in federal contracting. These proposed changes aim to free federal contracts, and their supply chains, from the scourge of human trafficking by taking several important steps. These steps include (1) prohibiting charging workers recruitment fees, (2) prohibiting misleading or fraudulent recruitment practices, (3) requiring the provision of transparent terms in the worker’s native language, and (4) prohibiting the possessing or destroying immigration or identity documents. We commend these changes.
National non-governmental legal organizations have put forth excellent recommendations for model state legislation. In this year, the Uniform Law Commission’s new, comprehensive uniform act to combat human trafficking and help its victims was approved by the American Bar Association. The Uniform Act outlined “(1) comprehensive human trafficking penalties; (2) essential protections for human trafficking victims; and (3) public awareness, training, and planning processes needed to combat human trafficking.” Many Freedom Network members participated in the drafting and comment process. In addition, the ABA separately passed several resolutions to improve anti-trafficking efforts, including recommending that laws and policies should be enacted so that victims of human trafficking are not subject to arrest, prosecution or punishment for prostitution or other crimes that are a direct result of their status. These recommendations will advance anti-trafficking efforts at the state level and among legal professionals.
Challenges and Recommendations
USCIS must fully train all adjudicators at the Vermont Service Center on human trafficking. After the initiative to increase capacity at VSC, adjudicators of T visas are issuing inconsistent requests for evidence that reveal some new adjudicators’ fundamental misunderstanding of trafficking law and USCIS regulations. Thorough training is necessary to avoid causing survivors unnecessary distress and delay during immigration application processing. Additionally, officers adjudicating all applications for status through the Vermont Service Center should be trained on the dynamics of trafficking, as victims of trafficking may apply for other forms of relief. In one case, a Member received a request for “proof of remorse and rehabilitation” for an applicant who had engaged in prostitution under coercion by a trafficker, which is inappropriate in a trafficking situation.
DOL should sign T-visa certifications for trafficking crimes. DOL’s statutory authority to provide certification for both T and U visa applicants is clear. 8 C.F.R. § 214.14(a). While DOL has specified that it will certify U visas for the crimes of trafficking, involuntary servitude, and peonage, which qualify under the T visa’s definition of a “severe form of trafficking,” it currently does not provide certification for T visa applicants. DOL’s failure to certify for T visa applicants denies the specific benefits available under the T visa to some of the most vulnerable workers in the United States. For example, only those individuals granted T visas are eligible for federal public benefits. Further, U visa applications consistently exceed the cap year after year, delaying relief. By contrast, T visas have never met the cap and accordingly, adjudication of these applications is generally much faster, which can be vital to a survivor’s stabilization and recovery.
DOJ must release guidance regarding the issuance of the “case closed” letter necessary for adjustment applications for foreign national trafficking victims. If a T visa recipient files an adjustment of status application in less than three years based on a complete investigation, the applicant must submit a document signed by the Attorney General or his designee, attesting that the investigation or prosecution is complete. 8 C.F.R. § 245.23(e)(2)(i)(B). Freedom Network members report a lack of transparency and much inconsistency in this process, including waiting periods of more than a year to receive a requested letter. Guidance on this process would provide must needed clarity, consistency, and transparency in the issuance of these “case closed” letters.
The Department of State and other government agencies must offer greater support for family reunification for trafficking victims. The Department of State issues funding to international NGOs, such as the International Organization for Migration, which provides vital services in reunifying trafficking survivors with their family members. Over the last three years, this funding has been so limited that families have experienced significant delays in being reunited.
In addition, there have been communication breakdowns between Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and victims of trafficking struggling to reunify with their children. One Freedom Network member had a case in which a victim was extensively cooperating in the investigation and prosecution of her traffickers. The victim’s cooperation in the prosecution raised serious safety concerns regarding her young children in the home country. HSI stated multiple times that her children would be issued parole and brought to the United States yet, more than one year has passed, and HSI has not issued parole to the children. This breach of trust between victims of trafficking and law enforcement is incredibly disruptive to the rebuilding of a victim’s life. Furthermore, law enforcement’s failure to act establishes a harmful rapport with a victim-witness who is critical to the prosecution of the trafficker.
Congress should restore immigrants’ trust in state and local law enforcement by passing legislation expressly limiting immigration enforcement to federal immigration officers. The federal Secure Communities program (S-Comm) and similar programs continue to heighten victims’ fear of law enforcement and undermine community safety. Traffickers frequently tell immigrant victims that they will be deported if the victim seeks assistance from the police. S-Comm, 287(g) agreements, and state enforcement of immigration laws give teeth to these threats. Congress should make clear that local law enforcement are allies in helping survivors of violent crimes such as human trafficking by specifically preempting state and local authorities from enforcing immigration law.
As part of a victim-centered approach to investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes, HSI must stop issuing NTAs to trafficking victims. In the last year, HSI has continued to issue “Notices to Appear” (NTAs) to alleged trafficking victims following their initial investigatory interview. Though the NTAs issued in this context do not set a date for the appearance, the NTA process nevertheless exacerbates the fear victims have of law enforcement authorities. Immigrant trafficking victims, who almost without exception have no familiarity with the U.S. legal system – and particularly do not understand the nuanced difference between a dated and an undated NTA (even when explained by an attorney) – and who were often told by the trafficker that they would face adverse legal consequences if they were to report the trafficking, are tremendously intimidated by this process.
HSI should exercise prosecutorial discretion in the victims’ best interest. In one example, HSI raided a home where suspected trafficking victims were living. While they did encounter survivors, the agents issued NTAs for all individuals in the home, including the partner of one of the survivors who was not a trafficker. HSI continued with the removal proceedings against the partner and refused to exercise prosecutorial discretion. This added to the stress and trauma the survivor experienced as she was in the process of building a new life with her partner and looking forward to the birth of their U.S. citizen child. Her partner was deported, and the trafficking survivor will struggle to support the child alone.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should expeditiously apply for Continued Presence for victims who are actively assisting trafficking investigations. HSI continues to refuse to apply for Continued Presence for the majority of human trafficking survivors cooperating with law enforcement. Under HSI’s own protocol the probability of conviction is not a required element to consider when applying for Continued Presence (CP), however, HSI agents regularly use this as a reason to delay or refuse CP to victims of human trafficking. The numbers reflect this problem. HSI issued Continued Presence to 283 victims in 2011 and only 199 victims in 2012. It is our understanding that the 2013 numbers will be similar to the 2012 numbers. When ICE makes a decision to grant Continued Presence, it usually takes months for the processing to be completed. During that period, the trafficking survivor has no proof of immigration status, let alone work authorization or other means of subsistence. CP is a tool to keep survivors safe, stable, and healthy while they cooperate in the investigation and begin to rebuild their lives. When trafficking survivors are never granted Continued Presence, they are discouraged from cooperating with investigations and are vulnerable to further victimization.
The United States needs comprehensive policies and laws regulating foreign labor recruiters. Recruitment of foreign labor is largely unregulated, and where it is regulated, enforcement lags behind protections. As a result, many foreign labor recruiters misuse U.S. visa programs to exploit workers, often charging exorbitant fees for their services and deceiving workers about the terms and conditions of proposed employment. While the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) proposed this year would start to ensure lawfulness in recruitment in federal contracting supply chains, other contracting remains largely unregulated.
A law providing much-needed protections and regulating foreign labor recruiters in California, the first of its kind in the nation, was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown and is currently pending in the CA legislature as S 477. Finally, both federal and California pending legislation in this area have excluded J-1 workers from protection. Given that the J-1 program has been shown to be fraught with the same type of abuse as other temporary worker programs, comprehensive legislation around foreign labor recruiters must include all temporary workers, including J-1 visa holders, and contain at a minimum the following requirements:
- Disclosure. Foreign labor contractors will be required to provide full and fair information to foreign workers, in a language they understand, about the terms and conditions of work. A contractor may not knowingly provide a worker with false or misleading information. Employers using the services of foreign labor contractors to obtain workers will be required to report those activities.
- Bona fide job offer. No contractor may solicit a foreign worker for a job in the absence of a bona fide offer of employment. A contractor may not charge a worker a fee related to recruiting activities. Contract terms and conditions may not be changed without adequate notice to workers.
- Registration. Foreign labor contractors seeking to provide workers to employers will be required to register with the Department of Labor. Employers will be required to use the services of registered contractors.
- Enforcement. Foreign labor contractors, and employers using unregistered contractors, will be subject to civil and criminal penalties for violations. Aggrieved workers will have civil causes of action against both contractors and employers to protect their interests.
Further, where regulation does already exist, enforcement is weak. The Department of Labor and the Department Homeland Security prohibit recruiters from charging recruitment fees of H-2 temporary workers. However, H-2 workers continue to report that foreign labor recruiters generally still charge them recruitment fees despite DOL and DHS prohibitions on such fees, and their employers often reimburse little or none of the fees. The Departments of Homeland Security and Labor should enforce their regulations so that workers benefit from regulatory protections.
II. IDENTIFICATION AND PREVENTION OF TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS
The Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States for 2013-2017 (“SAP”) confirmed that the Department of State will initiate in-person registration of all A-3 and G-5 visa-holders in the Washington, D.C. area. In-person registration of all domestic workers holding A-3 or G-5 visas will mark a significant step towards identifying such workers who are vulnerable to trafficking, labor exploitation, and abuse, apprising these workers of rights, and connecting them with services and government agencies. Freedom Network commends the Department of State for moving forward with this vital program.
The United States Mission to the United Nations held a meeting in November 2013 in New York City for all the Permanent Missions and for the United Nations regarding the treatment and legal protections for A-3 and G-5 domestic workers. A-3 and G-5 visa-holders employed by diplomats and international organization employees face significant risk for abuse, including forced labor, domestic servitude, physical and sexual abuse, psychological coercion, and non-payment or under-payment of wages. The State Department has taken significant steps to prevent this abuse. Over the last several years, the Office of the Chief of Protocol has organized a series of meetings in Washington, D.C. to educate members of the diplomatic community about rights afforded to these workers under U.S. law. The November 2013 meeting held by the U.S. Mission to the UN was the first such meeting of its kind for diplomats and Mission employees in New York City.
Challenges and Recommendations
The Department of Labor must take a more pro-active role in the identification of potential trafficking situations. In order to rectify the discrepancy between the large incidence of human trafficking in the labor sector and the low number of victims identified and served, the DOL must take a more active role. Wage and hour inspectors are well placed to identify and assist victims of human trafficking in diverse labor contexts, especially as these victims are woefully under-identified and under-served. The Department of Labor should require and implement uniform training in human trafficking for all wage and hour inspectors.
The Department of Health and Human Services must provide standardized training on human trafficking to its grantees and state partners. HHS provides the bulk of services and provides a point of intersection for many potential victims of trafficking to be identified. Many victims interact with HHS grantees in the areas of medical, mental health, child welfare, domestic violence, runaway and homeless youth. HHS should lead the way by adequately training its partners to identify, refer or serve these victims.
The United States Mission to the United Nations and the Department of State should convene a meeting of A-3 and G-5 visa-holders in New York City without their employers and should expand the new in-person registration program to domestic workers on A-3 and G-5 visas outside of the Washington, D.C. area. The U.S. Mission to the UN held its first meeting of Permanent Mission employees and UN employees on the subject of the rights of A-3/G-5 visa-holders in November 2013. The U.S. Mission should follow the Department of State’s lead in convening a mandatory meeting of all A-3/G-5 domestic workers in New York City – without their employers – to ensure that they are apprised of their rights and aware of resources in the event they are being trafficked, exploited, or abused. Further, the Strategic Action Plan confirmed that the Department of State will soon begin in-person registration of all A-3/G-5 visa-holders in the Washington, D.C. area. This program should not be confined to Washington, D.C. Freedom Network members report abuse and exploitation of A-3/G-5 visa-holders across the country, including other large cities like New York City and San Francisco.
III. LEGAL REMEDIES FOR VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Trafficking victims are availing themselves of the civil remedy under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act in increasing numbers. The Trafficking Victim Protection Reauthorization Act was amended in 2003 to add a civil remedy allowing victims of human trafficking to bring claims against their traffickers in federal court. 18 U.S.C. § 1595. Some state anti-trafficking statutes also include civil remedies. In addition to civil claims under trafficking statutes, trafficking victims may also bring claims under other federal and state statutes relating to discrimination, retaliation, breach of contract, and non-payment or underpayment of wages. Victims may also include tort claims such as fraudulent misrepresentation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and false imprisonment. Victims are entitled to recover “damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees.” Recent appellate case law has confirmed the availability of punitive damages for victims. The statute of limitations for federal civil trafficking claims is ten years.
While restitution for human trafficking victims is mandatory under the Trafficking Victim Protection Act in federal criminal prosecutions, the federal government prosecutes a relatively small number of human trafficking cases each year. The civil remedy under the same statute has provided an important alternative for trafficking victims to seek justice and compensation from their traffickers. As of December 31, 2013, ten years since the civil remedy was enacted in 2003, 117 civil cases had been filed on behalf of trafficking victims in the United States. Although the number of federal civil cases brought by victims is modest, that number has increased substantially in the last several years. Of closed cases, nearly 75 percent have resulted in settlements or judgments for the trafficking victims. A quarter of the cases were brought in the past two years, including twenty cases in 2013 alone. In all, 109 of those cases involved victims of labor trafficking; only eight of the cases involved sex trafficking allegations. This discrepancy may be explained by the fact that sex trafficking cases are far more likely to be criminally prosecuted than labor trafficking cases. For some victims held in forced labor, a civil case may bring the only justice available. Advocates believe that the number of cases will continue to increase steadily as more pro bono attorneys receive training and more victims learn of their legal rights.
The Diplomatic Security Service of the State Department, the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit at the Department of Justice, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York showed leadership in investigating and prosecuting a consular officer for her exploitation of a domestic worker. United States v. Khobragade represents only the fifth indictment of a consular official, diplomat, or foreign employee of an international organization for crimes arising out of the abuse or exploitation of a domestic worker. Abuse of domestic workers on A-3/G-5 visas remains widespread; Freedom Network members continue to report high numbers of trafficking of A-3/G-5 visa-holders. For example, the City Bar Justice Center (A Freedom Network member) has seen 26 cases of human trafficking by diplomats. See http://www2.nycbar.org/citybarjusticecenter/images/stories/pdfs/cbjc-iwc-human-trafficking.pdf. We hope the indictment of Defendant Khobragade signifies a turning point in which federal prosecutors will bring more cases for these and similar criminal violations.
The investigation and prosecution of Defendant Khobragade was the result of an incredibly productive and positive collaboration between the Diplomatic Security Service, the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the non-governmental organization representing the domestic worker (a Freedom Network member). Specifically, the victim’s and witnesses’ needs and concerns were prioritized and addressed quickly. We are encouraged by this coordinated and victim-centered approach and look forward to future opportunities to work together.
Challenges and Recommendations
Facilitate better use of the civil remedy under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. The civil remedy under the Trafficking Victim Protection Reauthorization Act provides a critical platform for victims of trafficking to seek justice and compensation, raise awareness, and advocate for their rights and the rights of others similarly situated. However, both practical and legal barriers to this remedy likely prevent many victims from asserting their rights. Civil litigation is rigorous, time-consuming, expensive, and public. Many victims may not feel comfortable or safe bringing claims against their traffickers and making themselves vulnerable to aggressive and harassing litigation tactics. Further, some victims, particularly in rural or remote areas of the United States, may have difficulty obtaining appropriate counsel and/or learning of the full range of legal options. Finally, many victims of trafficking at the hands of diplomats and consular officials face additional legal hurdles, including the traffickers’ claims of full or limited immunity to prosecution or civil suit.
The State Department and the Trafficking in Persons Office should consider further actions to sanction India for the pattern of exploitative behavior exhibited by Indian officials in the United States. The decision to accredit Defendant Khobragade with full immunity and remove her from the United States sets a dangerous precedent. We understand the limitations facing the U.S. government in making this determination, yet we cannot ignore the possibility that these actions may have negative implications for future prosecutions. Further, we have serious concerns regarding the pattern of exploitative behavior exhibited by Indian officials in the United States – this is the third case alleging exploitation and abuse by members of the Indian Consulate in as many years – and encourage the State Department and the Trafficking In Persons Office to consider further actions to sanction India for such practices, including suspending India from the A-3/G-5 visa program.
The United States government should more vigorously pursue prosecutions for labor trafficking. The United States Attorneys’ Offices (USAO), Criminal Section Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and the Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) initiated a combined number of 128 federal human trafficking prosecutions in fiscal year 2012. See Joseph S. Campbell Deputy Assistant Director, Criminal Investigative Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joint Statement with Anne C. Gannon, National Coordinator for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, Office of the Deputy Attorney General: Statement before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (Sept. 23, 2013), available at http://www.fbi.gov/news/testimony/combating-human-trafficking. 200 defendants were charged, leading to 138 convictions. Of those charged, 162 defendants were classified as being engaged predominately in sex trafficking and 38 as engaged predominantly in labor trafficking. Of those convicted, 105 defendants were predominantly involved sex trafficking and 33 were predominantly involved labor trafficking. The gap in numbers of prosecutions demonstrates the unequal interest in prosecuting different forms of trafficking.
In addition, state legal and law enforcement structures demonstrate and contribute to the disparity in types of trafficking cases pursued by the government. Currently, all 50 states in the United States have laws criminalizing human trafficking. However, the anti-trafficking laws in many of the states address only sex trafficking, and still others recognize only sex trafficking of minors. Kelly Heinrich & Kavitha Sreeharsha, The State of State Human-Trafficking Laws, The Judges Journal 52.1 (Winter 2013), available at http://www.americanbar.org/publications/judges_journal/2013/winter/the_state_of_state_humantrafficking_laws.html. A study by the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center and Northeastern University in 2012 on the investigation and prosecution of state and local human trafficking cases found that state and local law enforcement focus on the commercial sexual exploitation of young girls because in large part, they lack the infrastructure, expertise, and initiative to investigate labor trafficking, as opposed to sex trafficking. Amy Farrell et. al., Identifying Challenges to Improve the Investigation and Prosecution of State and Local Human Trafficking Cases, Urban Institute, Northeastern University (2012), available at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/238795.pdf.
Given the vast number of civil cases involving victims and survivors who were trafficked into labor, the government should make every effort to pursue these cases with as much fervor as they do for victims and survivors trafficked into the commercial sex trade. All trafficked persons should have the opportunity to seek criminal justice. And the government should set the example in prosecuting offenders of this crime.
IV. SOCIAL SERVICES FOR VICTIMS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING
The federal government created a Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States for 2013-2017 (“SAP”). Effective service provision to survivors of human trafficking requires coordinating the diverse federal agencies that provide such services. The SAP provides an important framework for federal agencies to provide coordinated services using consistent definitions and processes. The SAP calls for delivery of culturally appropriate, trauma-informed services, expanded access to services, and data-driven service provision. The Freedom Network appreciates the government’s outreach to survivors and advocates in creating the SAP and urges agencies to continue to incorporate survivor and advocate feedback during implementation.
NGOs across the country are providing comprehensive and specialized services to victims of all forms of human trafficking. For example, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) (a Freedom Network member) offers an intensive case management program including accompaniment to meetings; mental health assessment and referrals, educational and employment resources; as well as assistance in accessing health care and transportation services. Due to the generosity of an anonymous donor and a faith-based partner, CAST was recently able to start a shelter dedicated to survivors of human trafficking. A confidential, secure, and healing sanctuary, the shelter is equipped with a computer lab for skill-building, a healing garden for meditation and reflection, a living space that promotes a community of trafficking survivors supporting and nurturing one another, yoga and art classes, and a full-service kitchen where victims can cook and eat the familiar foods they were not allowed to eat while enslaved.
Anti-trafficking NGOs are initiating new and creative approaches to human trafficking through training and outreach to governmental and non-governmental partners. In response to the 2008 passage of the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act, in 2013, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) partnered with the non-governmental organization the International Organization for Adolescents (IOFA) to implement ChildRight: NY. ChildRight: NY seeks to build an effective statewide response to child trafficking. Five pilot areas, including the Counties of Erie, Monroe, Onondaga, and Westchester as well as the five boroughs of New York City, received funding to develop or improve the local services offered to child victims of trafficking, as defined by local experts. These pilot areas received baseline training in screening, identifying, assessing, referring, and serving child victims, as well as technical assistance from IOFA (a Freedom Network Member) and its partners. A Steering Committee of 59 experts from the pilot areas was convened to discuss the current systems which serve child victims of trafficking, barriers and challenges within these systems, and potential actionable solutions to each of these challenges. This information is being drafted into a blueprint, or action plan, which will be adopted by OCFS as a guiding document to develop a comprehensive state-wide approach to addressing child trafficking in New York.
In October 2013, Drs. Susie Baldwin, Kim Chang, Makini Chisholm-Straker, Aimee Grace, Judy Okawa, Nicole Litt and Hanni Stoklosa launched the Health Professional Education, Advocacy, Linkage (HEAL) web site, to bring together medical and mental health professionals for networking and information exchange about treatment for survivors of human trafficking. Health professionals now have a national forum to discuss challenges, share resources and establish best practices. This important new resource is a critical step forward in improving healthcare for survivors, as well as unifying health professionals’ efforts in victim identification, research and prevention.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)’s new model of funding victim services has largely been a success. The Northern Tier Anti-Trafficking Consortium at Heartland Alliance (A Freedom Network member) is one of three grantees intended to provide a safety net for foreign-born survivors identified across several states. The Northern Tier Anti-Trafficking Consortium serves 14 states (MN, WI, MI, IL, IN, OH, NY, MA, RI, NH, ME, VT, NJ, and CT). The de-centralized structure along with the collaborative network of service providers ensures that any qualified survivor will have access to quality, trauma-informed services regardless of his or her location.
Survivor-led programs are emerging throughout the country and are offering innovative services for victims. For example, Courtney’s House is a survivor-run organization that provides services to victims and survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. Courtney’s House provides case management; educational assistance; survivor-led support groups for boys, girls, and transgender victims/survivors; mentorship programs; counseling; group therapy; and academic tutoring. In addition, it conducts an overnight street outreach program to identify victims, survivors, and minors who are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation or sex trafficking. Finally, Courtney’s House maintains a hotline staffed by trained victims and survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking.
The National Survivor Network (NSN), affiliated with CAST, is a group of survivors who are capable of informing public policy, shaping programmatic and funding decisions, providing training and technical assistance, and leading human trafficking educational efforts. The NSN brings together a community of survivors of human trafficking, by creating a platform for survivor led advocacy, peer to peer mentorship, and empowerment that embraces all survivors, regardless of gender, age, nationality or type of trafficking experience. Members of the network include survivors from 21 states (AR, AZ, CA, DC, FL, GA, HI, IL, KY, MD, ME, MO, NC, NV, NY, OH, OR, PA, TX, VA, and WA) and over 16 countries. The Network’s diverse membership makes it the only network that is representative of the various different situations and dynamics that survivors of human trafficking experience.
As awareness about human trafficking continues to grow in the United States, survivor voices need to be prioritized. Survivors of human trafficking are distinctly positioned to line up action steps and educate legislators on the realities of the issue. Survivor input on government priorities and actions will also improve the likelihood that proposed plans and solutions will work.
The need for services for male and transgender victims of trafficking into commercial sex is increasingly being recognized and met. For example, Larkin Street Youth Services is a San Francisco–based nonprofit organization that provides a range of support services to homeless and runaway youth aged 13 to 24. Many of the boys and LGBTQ youth served by Larkin Street report that they have been involved in some aspect of sex work or sexual exploitation and have a history of family violence, child sexual abuse, childhood abuse, or childhood neglect. Larkin Street provides underage emergency shelter, transitional living programs, primary medical care, case management, education and employment services, HIV prevention information and testing, mental health services, and substance abuse intervention. In addition, Larkin Street collaborates with other area service providers that serve primarily girls and women to make services available to populations that they may be unable to assist.
The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center (SWP) (a Freedom Network member) offers a unique program to outreach to transgender survivors of human trafficking. When transgender undocumented individuals are arrested, SWP receives notice through LGBT programs and community members, and begins advocacy directly in the criminal court. SWP has found that transgender undocumented people are commonly falsely arrested for prostitution, brutalized in arrest, and risk deportation and death if referred to immigration detention. After resolving immediate danger from the criminal and immigration systems, SWP conducts intake and has identified many of these individuals as victims of trafficking. SWP then offers comprehensive social and legal services to the survivors.
Challenges and Recommendations
Increase funding for anti-trafficking initiatives, targeting gaps. The most recent TVPRA cut authorizations by one-third across the board compared to levels set in 2008. Comprehensive services that serve survivors of all forms of trafficking, including U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, adults and minors, are extremely limited. For example, only 16 service providers in the United States receive DOJ/Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) funding. The Department of Health and Human Services through its Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is the only 50-state funded program, but there are gaps where some grantees cannot offer full coverage in every part of their geographic region. Additionally, service providers receiving HHS funds through a per capita program experienced a lapse in funding and services this year due to insufficient funds. On August 1, 2013, HHS notified service providers that as of that date, no new clients would be able to be enrolled until October 1, 2013, and those currently enrolled would see funding cuts of 50 percent as well as cuts to administrative support for service agencies. HHS had been warned that money would run out in the end of the third quarter and no additional money was provided. This was despite the fact that the trafficking victim programs funded by HHS had exceeded the number of victims to be served in the fiscal year by 184 percent. The impact of these funding cuts – particularly when there is no notice – can be catastrophic for Freedom Network members’ clients.
Do not impose unnecessary procedures on survivors of trafficking that make it difficult to access the services that do exist. Where OVC- and ORR-funded programs are both present, it is required that pre-certified foreign-born survivors be referred to the OVC-funded program until they receive certification via Continued Presence or a T Visa, and then to be transferred to an ORR-funded program. This causes disruption of trust and working relationships between the service provider, law enforcement, and client, and is not a best practice for trauma-informed and client-centered services.
Require comprehensive training for Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) public benefits staff on working with survivors of human trafficking. Lack of training and expertise in this agency has led to devastating denial of benefits. Workers are not trained on ORR Certification letters and they often deny victims benefits or only partially approve them. For example, single (non-family) victims of trafficking are eligible for refugee cash assistance if they meet the income requirements, however, they are consistently not being provided with this public benefit.
Adequately fund shelter for victims of trafficking, especially male victims. Service providers are rarely able to find shelter beds for victims of trafficking, particularly victims of labor trafficking and male victims. Few shelters are designated for trafficking victims and even fewer accommodate men. Shelter is often the most immediate need for someone escaping a trafficking situation and is imperative in order to stabilize a victim so that other needs can be addressed.
Investigate and provide for the special needs of marginalized populations within human trafficking survivors. Little is known about the prevalence of human trafficking of people with disabilities, although recent cases in New York City and Chicago suggest that disability may be a significant risk factor for exploitation. In November 2013, the Illinois State’s Attorney charged a Calumet City man with the county’s first case of labor trafficking for threatening, beating, burning and torturing two mentally handicapped men, while he exploited them for money and denied them food. The victims were referred to specialized services through the Salvation Army’s STOP-IT program.
V. CRIMINALIZATION AND DETENTION OF VICTIMS
Some new laws acknowledge that criminal punishment of sex workers and persons forced into commercial sex causes further harm to them. For example, in 2013, Illinois eliminated felony prostitution from the criminal code which formerly applied to persons with multiple convictions for prostitution. Persons arrested for prostitution will now only be subject to a class A misdemeanor, reducing harm and stigma.
New York’s successful implementation of the Vacating Convictions for Trafficked Persons law has been a model for the country. In 2010, New York became the first state in the United States to allow survivors of trafficking to vacate criminal records imposed as a result of having been trafficked. N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 440.10(1)(i). Several other jurisdictions have now drafted and implemented similar provisions to benefit survivors of trafficking. See, e.g., Nev. Rev. Stat. § 176.515; 725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/116-2.1; Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. §8-302; Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 13, § 2658; Haw. Rev. Stat. § 712-1209.6; Wash. Rev. Code. Ann. § 9.96.060; Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 748.2; Andrew Keshner, Prostitution Conviction is Vacated Under New Law, N.Y.L.J., May 9, 2011, at 245. These laws create a remedy for the harmful criminalization of survivors of trafficking into commercial sex, allowing them to move on without a criminal record.
Challenges and Recommendations
Institute internal policies among prosecutorial agencies to stop the practice of charging trafficking victims with federal trafficking-related crimes. Freedom Network members report that human trafficking victims are still being punished, arrested, and detained for acts they commit under the direction of the trafficker. One member reported that two of its clients had been indicted in federal anti-trafficking prosecutions for trafficking-related crimes, in spite of the fact that they were themselves victims of trafficking. In some cases, victims are represented by attorneys hired by traffickers, without a thorough investigation into possible conflicts of interest. When victims of trafficking sustain federal convictions, it can lead to lengthy sentences, sex offender registration, and reduced employability, among other consequences. We encourage the development of internal policies by the Department of Justice to use prosecutorial discretion and refrain from prosecuting victims of trafficking for trafficking-related offenses.
Trafficking victims should not be arrested as a means of engaging them with services. Several members report that initiatives intended to serve human trafficking victims through the criminal justice system following arrests for prostitution maintain policies of arresting trafficking survivors as a means of engaging them with services. In one program in Phoenix, social workers “team up” with law enforcement to arrest sex workers in order to offer them services, encouraging them to agree to a disposition without counsel. Victims of trafficking suffer enormous consequences from arrest, including loss of employment opportunities and loss of trust in law enforcement to help them exit trafficking situations. Additionally, trafficking victims are often arrested not only for prostitution-related offenses, but for other offenses involving weapons, drugs, or trespassing, due to acts they were forced to commit. Laws to allow victims of trafficking to vacate their convictions still offer only a post-facto remedy, and cannot compensate for the trauma of the initial arrest. The United State government needs to do more to ensure that adult and child trafficking victims do not face criminal charges for the crimes there traffickers force them to commit. States need to ensure that survivors are referred to services, that services are primarily voluntary and not court-ordered, that criminal records can be vacated or expunged, and that arrests do not to continue to haunt survivors seeking employment and educational opportunities.
The FBI should reform Operation Cross Country to reduce the collateral impact of anti-trafficking law enforcement actions on trafficked and non-trafficked sex workers. Since 2003, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has run Innocence Lost taskforces to coordinate the FBI and local law enforcement on the issue of child trafficking. Once per year, the FBI’s Operation Cross Country raids sex work venues in search of child victims of sexual exploitation. However, the Operation has typically arrested ten times more sex workers than it has discovered minors involved in commercial sex. In 2010, Operation Cross Country resulted in the discovery of 69 minors and the arrest of 99 “pimps.” However, it also reported 885 arrests total, meaning that it likely resulted in the arrest of 717 adult sex workers, or possibly adult victims of human trafficking. In 2013, the FBI did not report the total number of arrests, only that 105 minors were discovered. Judging by news reports from several participating cities, the number of adult sex workers or adult survivors of trafficking arrested was likely equally high in 2013. It was also later revealed that the minors who were “rescued” were also often arrested and incarcerated, due to lack of safe shelters and services.
In conclusion, the Freedom Network respectfully offers these examples of successes and challenges related to U.S. anti-trafficking efforts. We hope that an examination of U.S. strategies will lead to more thoughtful, coordinated, and effective future efforts that will better prevent human trafficking and provide justice for survivors.
Thank you for your consideration of these comments. Please contact the Freedom Network at email@example.com or (646) 504-9602 if you have any questions.
Bill Bernstein, Freedom Network Co-Chair
Ivy Suriyopas, Freedom Network Co-Chair
Suzanne Tomatore, Freedom Network Co-Chair
On behalf of Members of the Freedom Network
American Gateways (TX)
Heartland Human Care Services (IL)
Kristen Heffernan (NY)
Americans for Immigrant Justice (FL)
Florrie Burke (NY)
My Sisters’ Place (NY)
API Chaya (WA)
Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center (DC)
Mosaic Family Services (TX)
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (NY)
Human Trafficking Resource Project (CA)
National Immigrant Justice Center (IL)
Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach (CA)
International Institute of Buffalo (NY)
Safe Horizon (NY)
Ayuda, Inc. (DC)
International Institute of Connecticut (CT)
Sex Workers Project, Urban Justice Center (NY)
Break the Chain Campaign, IPS (DC)
International Institute of St. Louis (MO)
Southern Poverty Law Center Immigrant Justice Program (GA)
City Bar Justice Center, Immigrant Women and Children Project (NY)
International Organization for Adolescents (IL)
Coalition of Immokalee Workers Anti-Slavery Campaign (FL)
International Rescue Committee (AZ, FL, WA)
VIDA Legal Assistance, Inc. (FL)
Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CA)
Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center (CA)
Worker Justice Center of NY (NY)
Earlier this week, Freedom Network member the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center released this statement on claims of increased human trafficking around the Super Bowl and other large sporting events.
While we commend efforts to raise awareness about human trafficking, allegations that large sporting events, like the Super Bowl, increase the number of persons trafficked into prostitution are simply unfounded. Investigations from past Olympics, World Cups, and Super Bowls, have not found large numbers of persons trafficked to these locations by force to engage in commercial sex. These claims can lead to raids and police harassment of sex workers, increasing danger for this population. This is a misuse of scarce resources better aimed at preventing human trafficking and protecting the rights of sex workers.
While it is critically important to understand and tackle the root causes of human trafficking and provide resources to those who are currently in trafficking situations or who are survivors, erroneous links to sporting events are not helpful toward these ends. They also distract from real issues surrounding large sporting events that do deserve our attention and are often under-reported, including instances of unsafe labor conditions for construction workers who build sports arenas, and the large scale trafficking and deaths of migrant workers.
The media’s fixation on trafficking into the sex trade has led to an unfortunate misperceptions about human trafficking, and missed opportunities to halt human rights abuses. We encourage journalists and members of the public to support more just working conditions in all labor sectors where trafficking exists, including restaurants, private homes, landscaping, construction, and agriculture; this will help us recognize and assist victims in need.
Please see these sources:
Trafficking in Human Beings and the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Migration Research Series no. 29 , International Organization for Migration (2007), (stating that
“the estimate of 40,000 women expected to be trafficked [in Germany surrounding the World Cup] was unfounded and unrealistic”).
What’s the Cost of a Rumour? A guide to sorting out the myths and the facts about sporting events and trafficking, Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (2011).
Urban Legends and Hoaxes: How Hyperbole Hurts Trafficking Victims, Huffington Post, Rachel Lloyd, (2012), (stating that while
“there have definitely been some reported cases, the statistics just don’t bear out this claim.”).
Freedom Network Co-Chair Ivy Suriyopas examines the real impact of policies raising penalties for prostitution in this op-ed that appeared in The Guardian earlier this week.
Under the guise of improving laws against trafficking, states around the country are pushing policies that raise penalties for patronizing prostitution. This January, Human Trafficking Awareness Month, it’s time we faced the facts that these efforts will ultimately fail to protect trafficking victims.
First, let’s consider the complex definition of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a scheme where a perpetrator compels another to work against her will through force, fraud or coercion.
Who is a trafficker? A trafficker is someone who creates a climate of fear intended to intimidate and control a worker. They can exist in any industry, particularly where the trafficker can exploit certain vulnerabilities of the worker, such as limited education, scant knowledge of legal rights, age, limited English proficiency, reduced immigration status or limited awareness of resources for assistance.
Who is a trafficking survivor? An adult who is forced, defrauded, or coerced to work in someone’s home as a domestic worker is a victim of human trafficking. A child who is forced, defrauded, or coerced into picking tomatoes on a farm is a victim of human trafficking. Or a person who is forced, defrauded, or coerced into engaging in commercial sex is a victim of human trafficking.
Misguided policies that focus exclusively on the commercial sex industry ignore the large number of victims and survivors who are trafficked into construction, agriculture, factories, restaurants, the hospitality industry, domestic work and other fields. Enhancing the penalties on prostitution laws fails to address the victim who is trapped in a nail salon or the survivor who escaped from a state fair.
In most states, there are already laws against prostitution. To shoehorn trafficking into this framework ignores the crucial elements of force, fraud and coercion. For example, a person whose car is used for prostitution is not a trafficker. Criminalizing those involved in prostitution where there is no force, fraud, or coercion, or where no minors are involved, may prevent people from identifying and reporting trafficking as a crime or assisting in investigations.
Within the commercial sex industry, policies must recognize the unique circumstances of the trafficking survivor. Because trafficking victims are often forced to commit various crimes under coercive circumstances, states should protect survivors from criminal prosecution by allowing them to assert an affirmative defense in prostitution prosecutions if they can show they engaged in prostitution as a result of human trafficking.
States should also pass policies that ban condoms from being used as evidence in prostitution-related crimes, including human trafficking. In order to maintain control, traffickers often forbid victims from carrying or using condoms, putting victims at risk of unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.
However, effective anti-trafficking policies must go beyond increasing penalties for prostitution. One step in the right direction is California’s recently enacted supply chains law, which requires businesses be more responsible about eradicating human trafficking and forced labor from their supply chains. It would also cause customers to be more conscientious as they shop.
Laws that impact survivors, not perpetrators, are truly the most effective approach. In addition to their legal needs, survivors require multiple social services. A trafficked sheepherder may need counseling and employment assistance, while a person trafficked into prostitution may need medical assistance and housing. Many trafficking survivors also want or need economic justice and try to seek restitution or file civil actions against their traffickers. Policies that provide for access to critical services, funding for experienced anti-trafficking agencies, and a private right of action are all crucial to prioritizing the rights and needs of survivors, and protecting them on their road to recovery.
Yesterday, Freedom Network member Coalition of Immokalee Workers announced that Walmart signed on to be a part of the Fair Food Program, a unique farmworker- and consumer-driven initiative consisting of a wage increase supported by a price premium paid by corporate purchasers of Florida tomatoes, and a human-rights-based Code of Conduct, applicable throughout the Florida tomato industry.
…at a ceremony held under a watermelon packing shed on a tomato farm outside of Immokalee, Walmart and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers signed an historic agreement for the world’s largest retailer to join the CIW’s Fair Food Program, the widely-acclaimed social responsibility program that is bringing real, measurable change to the men and women who harvest tomatoes for Florida’s $650 million tomato industry. As part of the agreement, Walmart will work with the CIW to expand the Fair Food Program beyond Florida and into “other crops beyond tomatoes in its produce supply chain.”
Read more about this historic agreement here.
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and organizations and individuals around the United States are joining together to observe the month by raising awareness of human trafficking and taking action to support trafficking survivors in their communities.
Here are a few of our members’ upcoming events:
Orange, CA, January 10: Girl Rising Film & Discussion The Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking is co-sponsoring this screening of a groundbreaking film that tells the stories of nine girls from different parts of the world who face arranged marriages, child slavery, and other heartbreaking injustices. Despite these obstacles, the brave girls offer hope and inspiration. By getting an education, they’re able to break barriers and create change. Girl Rising showcases the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world. The event will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the St. Joseph Center Auditorium at 480 S. Batavia Street in Orange, CA 92868. For more information, visit www.csjorange.org, contact 714-633-8121 ext. 7716 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Berlin, CT, January 11: Pray to End Slavery and Human Trafficking The International Institute of Connecticut will be co-presenting with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families for the group “Prayer with Purpose” for the National Weekend of Prayer to end slavery and trafficking. It will be held at the Wellspring Church on the Berlin Turnpike from 8:30-11:30am. For details, view the event’s page.
Miami, January 23: National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month Presentation The International Rescue Committee’s Anti-Human Trafficking Program will host a presentation for members of the community who wish to learn about this hidden crime. The presentation will define human trafficking and discuss why it is happening both at a global and local level, as well as the recruitment methods used by traffickers to prey on victims. Attendees will receive information on the benefits that trafficked persons are entitled to and what is being done locally to assist this population. The event will be held at the IRC Miami office in Lennar Corporate Center at 730 NW 107 Ave, Suite 100 in Miami, FL 33172. opens at 1:30 p.m. for the event, which will begin at 2:00 p.m. and end at 4:00 p.m. To RSVP or for more information, contact Yazmin Barreto at Yazmin.Barreto@rescue.org or call 305-640-9881 Ext. 34.
Fort Worth, January 25: More Than a Woman Poetry Slam Mosaic Family Services will co-host a poetry slam to benefit survivors of human trafficking at 7 p.m. For more information, contact Mike Guinn at 972-704-5001.
12.18.13 By Tiffany Williams, Break The Chain Campaign
Last Tuesday, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney announced the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, a prominent Indian diplomat, for allegedly falsifying documents related to the domestic worker she employed through an A-3 visa, who has come forward with details about low pay and poor labor conditions at Khobragade’s home.
Much of the media surrounding this case has focused on the unfair treatment of Khobragade and the Indian government’s outrage. But what’s missing from the conversation is the context – exploitation of migrant domestic workers is not unusual. Khobragade was clearly mistreated by U.S. officers, but what about the abuse that migrant domestic workers live through every day?
Khobragade, like hundreds of other consular officers, Diplomats, and international officials, was granted the privilege of bringing over a domestic worker to care for her home and family under the U.S. A-3/G-5 visa program. The Department of State, which oversees and monitors this visa program, requires employers and workers to have written contracts that detail wages, hours, working conditions, in addition to in-person interviews and education about human trafficking and worker rights in the United States. Yet as this case shows, dishonest employers can find ways to undermine these protections.
There are more than 52 million domestic workers around the world. Many of them are migrants coming from places like India, Nepal, the Philippines, and Indonesia. They travel all over the world to work in the homes of wealthy families and diplomats.
Those who come to the United States enter a system where they’ll face layers of adversity just going to work each day. As mostly women of color and immigrants they will contend with discrimination based on gender, race, class, and immigration status. As domestic workers, they will be excluded from several important labor protections like the right to organize. The fact that their work is performed behind closed doors, in a country that highly values privacy and vehemently resists government oversight, makes it even harder for exploitation to be recognized and reported by even the most active citizens.
Domestic workers on these special diplomatic visas must contend with the additional risk of working for employers who have control over the visa, who can easily access and threaten the worker’s family in the home country, and who frequently avert meaningful punishment when they violate rules – whether through settlements, quiet exits, or no consequence at all.
It takes incredible bravery to break through these layers of adversity and come forward to get help. Yet rather than being hailed as heroes or even uplifted as survivors worthy of empathy – migrant domestic workers are too often vilified, especially in the media of their home countries. Sometimes the workers are even sued or accused of a crime.
In this case, media is focused on the treatment of the employer rather than the exploitation of the domestic worker she employed. We’ve heard reports that the Indian government and media are outraged at the State Department for this arrest.
This is unacceptable. Among its many functions, the State Department is tasked with protecting all workers who travel to the United States to work on these visas – which means they have to enforce our laws and arrest people who blatantly violate them, regardless of rank or gender.
The treatment of Khobragade during her arrest raises serious concerns for us, and our international allies, but it is our belief this cannot be used as an excuse to ignore the deeper questions raised by the case. We are grateful that this investigation was initiated and followed it through – too often, it is the international norm to ignore domestic worker abuse.
Congress, media, activists, and workers should stand by this worker, and stand by the State Department for taking action against the employer.
December 18, 2013
The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
Re: Devyani Khobragade
Dear Mr. Secretary,
We, the undersigned, serve as Co-Chairs of the Freedom Network, a coalition of 35 anti-trafficking service providers working with trafficking survivors throughout the United States. We are optimistic that the recent arrest of an Indian consular official on charges of visa fraud and uttering false statements, if substantiated, will lead to justice for an A-3 domestic worker. We are also aware of allegations of underpayment of wages to this worker.
For more than a decade, the Freedom Network and its members have sought to increase accountability for violations committed under A-3 or G-5 visas. We are pleased to see that the U.S. Government has taken this move to enforce fundamental federal laws targeting employer misuse of domestic worker visas.
We support the U.S. Government in enforcing laws to protect A-3 domestic workers, even when they are employed by diplomats or consular officials. This case – and others like it –is essential to prevent more extreme forms of abuse against A-3 domestic workers. As you stated in your remarks at the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF) at the White House on May 17, 2013, abuse of A-3 workers in the United States cannot be tolerated.
This case provides an important example to the diplomatic and consular community that the United States is prepared to uphold the rule of law. We hope that the U.S. Government will continue to pursue these criminal charges aggressively.
We appreciate your leadership in holding diplomats and consular officials accountable for serious violations of U.S. law. We hope to see similarly indefatigable action in other cases involving A-3 and G-5 visa-holders currently under investigation. We look forward to continuing to work with you to end abuse of the A-3/G-5 visa system.