The Freedom Network released an official response today on Amnesty International’s recent policy decision to support decriminalization of the sex industry. FN commends Amnesty International for upholding the values of human rights, self-determination, and empowerment with this decision. Read the full response here.
As one of the nation’s first federally funded grants to support direct services to survivors of human trafficking, the Trafficking Victim Assistance Program (TVAP) program has assisted thousands of foreign-born survivors across the country. On June 19th, the Office of Refugee Resettlement released the 2015 TVAP funding opportunity announcement (FOA), consisting of several significant changes to the program’s structure and eligibility requirements.
Freedom Network (FN) immediately became concerned about the impact these changes will have on foreign-born survivors of human trafficking and their ability to receive the support they so desperately need. FN has a long history of positive collaboration with ORR, both as a network and through the many individual member organizations that receive Rescue and Restore funds, as well as TVAP contracts. With this on-the-ground knowledge, the FN Co-Chairs met with Katherine Chon, Director of the new OTIP office that oversees ORR anti-trafficking programs, to present these concerns. Soon thereafter, FN sent a formal and detailed outline of concerns with the full support of ATEST, recommending that OTIP continue the current funding for one year in order to solicit feedback and collect data from Federal and NGO stakeholders—including survivors—to inform effective programmatic changes that address the very real and nuanced systems-based challenges facing survivors.
To access our official comments, please click here. The Freedom Network would like to thank our colleagues at ATEST for their support and contributions throughout the process.
Freedom Network co-chair Amy Fleischauer recently attended the Blue Campaign’s 5th anniversary event, strengthening the partnerships between government and law enforcement, private and public organizations. The Blue Campaign is presented by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in efforts to create a unified front to combat human trafficking. Through the Blue Campaign, the DHS offers trainings to law enforcement, first responders, educators, and others to improve detection and investigation of human trafficking, and to protect victims by bringing suspected traffickers to the justice system efficiently.
“The most exciting aspect of the event was the opportunity to share FN’ on the ground concerns about DHS processes and procedures directly with Blue Campaign leaders and underscore our commitment to partnering with them to improve support and safety for survivors.”
The event featured the following break-out sessions, inviting experts like Amy to share their expertise and experiences in collaboration for the success of the Blue Campaign:
- Private Sector Outreach: Expanding collaboration with private sector to focus on prevention
- Law Enforcement Training: Development and targeting of training materials
- Public Awareness: Impacts of the awareness campaign and future plans
- Research and Technology: How to best utilize research and technologies
- Interagency Collaboration: How to best support interagency partners in achieving common goals
In Amy’s attendance of the Law Enforcement training session, she participated with facilitators Scot Santoro and Sharon Peyus of HSI, regarding current training gaps and best practices regarding training methods. Amy was able to share many of the ideas and suggestions that Freedom Network has identified as on-the-ground practices that clearly identify a need for increased training.
Amy notes that while sharing her expertise in the Law Enforcement Training break-out session, there is also much knowledge that Freedom Network can impart in each of the five brainstorming session areas. The policy committee and social services committee are collaborating to create a document for DHS with additional information and recommendations for future success.
The Blue Campaign is a unified effort between various components of DHS including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC).
The anniversary event, hosted on July 22, 2015 marked a five-year collective effort to end human trafficking in the United States. The event focused on previous successes, including training of more than 10,000 state, local and campus law enforcement professionals, over 2.000 foreign law enforcement partners and approximately 50,000 airline employees.
Information on human trafficking has been displayed throughout the country through a nationwide awareness campaign in 13 major U.S. airports, on highways, and at large-scale events like the Superbowl. The event not only recognized these successes, but provided opportunity for discussion of next steps and connections for strengthening cross-sector partnerships.
Freedom Network member The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and their Fair Food Program on CBS news on Sunday! Watch the segment below, and connect with the CIW on Facebook and Twitter to spread the word!
About the The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)
The CIW is a worker-led human rights organization and pioneer in the fight to end modern slavery. Creator of the Fair Food Program & the Campaign for Fair Food.
About the Freedom Network
The Freedom Network USA is a network of service providers and advocates fighting all forms of human trafficking in the United States. With over 40 member organizations across the nation, The Freedom Network recognizes that human trafficking is fueled by complex and interconnected factors, including poverty and economic injustice, racism, gender-based discrimination, and political strife. The work of our members is focused on Criminal and Civil Justice Advocacy, Social Justice Advocacy, and Training. The Freedom Network is committed to human rights, empowerment-based approach to combating human trafficking.
Labor trafficking is finally getting media coverage, as a recent New York Times exposé on labor trafficking in New York City nail salons outed illegal practices taking place in majority within the industry.
Freedom Network members Griselda Vega and Shandra Wowonruntu recently contributed to CNN, calling on the need for greater enforcement of current labor laws, as well as establishment of foreign labor recruitment legislation.
A lack of regulation on foreign labor recruitment has perpetuated a system of entrapment and coercion where agencies and employers reign over the lives of workers. These workers are often threatened, blackmailed, or are receiving so little pay that they can barely afford to live, let alone to leave.
Vega recounts that according to the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, the United States has a Tier 1 ranking based on efforts to eradicate human trafficking. But as she implores, this top ranking should not be seen as a success unto itself. Instead, the country must continue to improve in its efforts to eradicate modern slavery, specifically through the support of Congress in implementation of foreign labor recruitment legislation.
This legislation would not only prevent workers from being trafficked across the border into the United States, but also provide support for victims through economic empowerment programs, scholarship programs, and other support services.
Human trafficking survivor and activist Shandra Woworunti, right, with Victims’ Rights Representative Ted Poe and Representative Carolyn Maloney at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol last year.
The Fraudulent Overseas Recruitment and Trafficking Elimination (FORTE) Act (HR 3344) was introduced into the last Congress to address this gap in policy, but it did not pass. The FORTE Act would deter human trafficking by increasing information access to overseas workers regarding prospective jobs, visas and other conditions of work in the United States, as well as requiring registration of foreign labor recruitment agencies at the Department of Labor, while prohibiting recruitment fees paid by workers.
Passage of the FORTE Act, and improve enforcement of human labor trafficking violations is of the utmost importance. As the article states,
‘We should demand no less from a Tier 1 country and a leader in the global battle to end modern slavery.’
Shandra, a survivor of human trafficking and a speaker at this year’s annual Freedom Network Conference, is the founder of Mentari, a New York-based nonprofit organization dedicated to providing training and economic empowerment support to victims of human trafficking. Griselda Vega is the Senior Director at the Anti-Trafficking Program at Safe Horizon, an organization that assists more than 250,000 people affected by crime and abuse each year.
Freedom Network is excited to introduce new member organization Opening Doors, based in Sacramento, CA. We spoke with Elizabet Medina about the work of the organization and the incredible impact they are having in the Sacramento area.
“Our mission is to empower refugees, immigrants, human trafficking survivors, and underserved Sacramento area residents to achieve self-sufficiency by accessing opportunities to mainstream economic and social systems.”
History of Opening Doors
Opening Doors began in 1993 as a small refugee resettlement agency, called the Sacramento Refugee Ministry. In 2003, the organization incorporated as an independent 501(c)(3) with the name Opening Doors. In 2004, the program became a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), growing an existing micro loan program and offering training in personal financial success. Opening Doors was a founding member of the Rescue and Restore Coalition in 2007, and established its Survivors of Human Trafficking Program.
Opening Doors Background and Services
- We assist underserved members of the Greater Sacramento Area to find greater opportunities within the US social and economic system, to become self-sufficient, and to realize their dreams of a better future.
- Our programs help those escaping human trafficking and newly-arriving refugees to restart safe and healthy lives.
- We provide tools for immigrants, refugees, and low-income citizens to build or grow small businesses, and to gain greater control over their personal finances.
Rescue and Restore Coalition
The Rescue and Restore Coalition has been working and succeeding at the community level in Sacramento since 2007. One outstanding success was the passage of SB 1193, a bill requiring certain businesses to display information of The National Human Trafficking Hotline. In November, several Coalition members coordinated SacPOST, a day for volunteers to distribute the flyer to Sacramento businesses. As an initial member of the Coalition, Opening Doors is pleased to have stepped in as primary administer of the program, hosting a community conversation with major sectors including law-enforcement, faith-based groups, non-profits, prosecutors and the exended communty.
Forming the Survivors Network
With Elizabet as founding member, Opening Doors partnered with the Rescue and Restore Coalition to establish the Survivors Network, a program that connects and empowers survivors of human trafficking in Sacramento.
“The Survivors Network is a safe place for survivors to share their experiences and find the support and resources they need,” Elisabet says.
The brilliance of the program is that it is entirely survivor-run, and as Elizabeth states, “This was intentional,” Elisabet says of the leadership. “If survivors are not leaders from Day 1, [the network] becomes just another program.” The program combats the fact that many human trafficking victims feel isolated from support, or are intentionally isolated by perpetrators. The Survivor Network program not only provides community, but also access to resources including ESL classes, GED courses and various community resources.
Supporting the TCVAP
Opening Doors assists in education and awareness in support of the Trafficking and Crime Victims Assistance Program (TCVAP). The TCVAP program focuses on assisting eligible non-citizen victims of human trafficking by providing them with state-funded benefits and services and was authorized by SB 1569 and effective beginning January 1, 2007. Through the TCVAP program, eligible persons may also receive 8 months of state-funded Medi-Cal administered by the California Department of Heath Care Services. In addition to providing assistance to victims of human trafficking, victims of domestic violence and serious crimes other than trafficking may meet eligibility for TCVAP funding after a U-Visa petition has been filed or granted. Opening Doors provides educational assistance to victims in application of these services.
Success through Services
Opening Doors is an organization that advocates and provides services to many needing assistance in the Sacramento area. The organization focuses on community development and prosperity, and believes in the fundamental value of each community member as a integral part of a diverse and thriving community.
President Obama announced his intent to nominate several key administrative posts today. The Freedom Network is happy to support Mrs. Susan Coppedge’s nomination for Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, with rank of Ambassador at Large, Department of State.
Mrs. Coppedge’s 15 years of experience prosecuting trafficking cases makes her an ideal candidate. Her victim centered approach and passion for justice is truly inspiring. Mrs. Coppedge has fought tirelessly to keep traffickers in jail. Survivors of this atrocious crime have always been Mrs. Coppedge’s priority. Their voices and experiences have always been heard even when they were not ready or able to speak for themselves.
Mrs. Coppedge has indicted 49 human trafficking cases since 2001, seven of which went to trial. In addition to prosecuting trafficking cases, Mrs. Coppedge has also taken every opportunity to train the community, law enforcement and social service agencies on indicators of human trafficking, prosecution and investigation of these cases. Mrs. Coppedge has advocated for nonjudgmental approach when working with survivors, an approach which focuses on dignity and respect.
Mrs. Coppedge’s experience spans across the international borders. In 2011, she served as the only U.S. prosecutor on a United Nations expert working group to develop an international reporting system for human trafficking. She also held a Fulbright Ian Axford Fellowship in Public Policy working with the New Zealand Ministry of Justice to enhance that country’s anti-trafficking efforts. Mrs. Coppedge recognizes the importance of collaboration across state and international lines.
More than 200 guest workers from India settled their lawsuits against the Mobile, Alabama based shipbuilder Signal International, with award of $20 million for their work after Hurricane Katrina. The federal lawsuit alleged that workers were lured to work for Signal with false promises of green cards and permanent U.S. residency. Signal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this week, and shipyards will continue under oversight by the bankruptcy court.
The initial $14 million award was the first verdict against Signal, although the company faced 12 labor trafficking lawsuits coordinated by FN member Southern Poverty Law Center and filed on behalf of over 200 workers.
Signal workers paid between $10,000 and $20,000 to recruiters, and were then required to live in company owned housing at a cost of $1,050 per month for a double wide trailer size home serving up to 24 men. Because of their debts and the perimeters of their visas, the men could not leave Signal to work for other employers once they learned of the work conditions. Some workers who brought initial claims forth against Signal in 2007 were detained and deported by the company.
To read further about the Signal ruling, click here. Congratulations to all who fought and succeeded for the justice of workers!
On June 17, 2015 Daniel Werner Senior, Supervising Attorney at Southern Poverty Law Center, was honored to testify in front of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Werner opened by addressing the issue of retaliation against immigrant and migrant workers as a particularly susceptible demographic for three principle reasons. He cited abusive employer threats of deportation, lack of portability between jobs due to visa restrictions, and lack of resources in workers’ home countries to support reintegration and fairness upon dismissal or decision to leave a position.
Werner went on to produce recommendations for the establishment and enforcement of tactics to combat these barriers. Werner stressed that reducing vulnerability of immigrant and migrant workers to retaliation requires in part political solutions, including comprehensive immigration reforms, tightened controls over foreign labor recruitment markets, legislative fixes, and development of civil society resources in other countries.
Some concrete steps were also outlined to expedite the process of implementation:
- Establishment of a rapid response team to immediately investigate and seek remedies- such as temporary restraining orders or preliminary injunctions- where immigrant workers face retaliatory deportation, visa repeal, violence or blacklisting.
- Continue to certify U visas.
- Continue to develop strategies designed to protect immigrant worker claimants over the course of EEOC litigation.
- Seek maximum money damages and strong injunctive relief for retaliation claims
- Develop relationships with reputable NGOs and trusted government agencies in support countries
- Collaborate with U.S. federal and state agencies to prevent unscrupulous contactors and employers from recruiting and hiring migrant workers.
- Remain vigilant about possible human trafficking, and make referrals to law enforcement and service providors where the EEOC suspects human trafficking has occurred.
Werner notes that in many cases, retaliation or the threat of retaliation is a central component of the coercion traffickers use to maintain compliance from workers. He suggests that when the EEOC has identified retaliation against immigrant workers, it should automatically assess whether the retaliation rises to the level of human trafficking.
To read the full written testimony, click here
California labor laws are being enforced in the city of San Francisco to protect California laborers who are particularly susceptible to wage theft. These workers are often entitled to compensation exceeding backed wages due to minimum wage laws, including severance pay violations, liquidated damages and waiting time penalties. If workers are able to submit a complaint within the statute of limitations timeframe, they can often recover significant lost wages. Community organizations Mujeres Unidas y Activas and the Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center recently assisted in a labor case awarded in favor of laborers by the California Labor Commissioner.
California Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su. has awarded back pay in the amount of $138,386 to a caregiver who worked 16-hour days in San Francisco without adequate compensation. Francisca Vasquez, a Salvadorian war refugee, was hired in 1992 by two siblings to work as a caregiver and companion for their elderly parents. Vasquez was originally paid $400 per month, and later $500 per month as she took on housekeeping and round-the-clock care for the sibling’s ailing mother. Upon the death of the mother, Vasquez was discharged from her position.
The labor commissioner awarded her:
- $50,008 for wages
- $48,209 in liquidated damages
- $35,707 in interest
- $4,464 in penalties
Click here for the full article