FNUSA Talks Human Trafficking and Immigration Enforcement during Congressional Briefing

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Several organizations who support immigrant survivors of violence organized a congressional briefing with bi-partisan support last Friday. Freedom Network USA Executive Director, Jean Bruggeman, was joined by representatives from National Network to End Domestic Violence, President of the Major City Chiefs Association, the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender Based Violence, and two survivor advocates to urge congress to continue to support protections for victims of crime, regardless of their immigration status. anelists reported a decrease in the number of immigrant victims who are seeking services from hotlines, court-based programs, and community-based resources.

In the wake of the President’s Executive Orders on border security and immigration, many victim service providers have reported wide spread fear within immigrant communities. Last month, several news organizations reported a case where a domestic violence victim was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at an El Paso courthouse immediately after her protective order hearing. The story has sparked wide-spread outrage and organizing among victim service and immigrant service providers.  Advocates worry that these tactics may cause immigrant survivors to fear seeking supportive services and calling the police for assistance – even as they are being victimized.

Chief J. Thomas Manger serves as the Chief of Police for Montgomery County, Maryland since 2003 and currently serves as President of the Major City Chiefs Association. As a long-time law enforcement officer, he spoke about the importance of building trust with immigrant communities. He shared two examples that highlighted how this culture of trust can positively affect immigrants impacted by violence. In one case, an undocumented immigrant came forward to testify as the sole witness in a murder investigation. The victim was a young woman who was killed by her intimate partner. Local law enforcement had created a positive relationship within the concerned immigrant community, making it possible to bring the perpetrator to justice.

Each of advocates spoke about their individual journeys as survivors of violence. Both were undocumented immigrants that were new to this country and were purposefully isolated from larger communities by their perpetrators. They feared fleeing their situation as they had no where to go and few resources at their disposal. Despite the fear that they would be deported and that their children could be left to stay with their abuser, each shared their heroic story of escape. It was only after they understood the rights and protections granted by Congress were they were able to reach out to law enforcement for help.

Freedom Network USA shared how increased enforcement and fear may affect trafficked persons. Human trafficking is by definition the deprivation of freedom for commercial gain. It can happen to anyone in all sorts of business sectors. Traffickers use similar tactics as domestic violence perpetrators to control their victims including isolation and capitalizing on their lack of knowledge of the justice system. Additionally, traffickers are able exploit survivors by preying on unique vulnerabilities included debt shaming. These instances of force, fraud, and coercion create insurmountable barriers for survivors to come forward and seek help, especially from law enforcement. Bruggeman stated that we must continue to collaborate with federal and local law enforcement to create safe spaces for survivors to come forward.

The fight against human trafficking depends on strong collaboration between law enforcemeent, service providers and other stakeholders. Bruggeman points out, “The Department of Justice has been working for over a decade to build and support a task force model to fight human trafficking. These collaborations increase identification of survivors and ability to prosecute traffickers. If we ruin the trust that has been created with law enforcement – we can no longer partner in way. The task force model would cease to be successful.” 

All of the speakers on the panel urged members of congress to get involved, speak out, and pursue legislation that protects immigrant victims of crime. In light of the President’s recently release budget, experts called on members to continue the fight to protect funding for programs that assist survivors, including housing, legal services, mental health, and medical services.

Freedom Network USA is proud of this work and will continue fighting to ensure the health and safety of survivors of human trafficking. This is the critical work of Freedom Network USA but we cannot do it without the support of individual donors across the country. Please consider a $10 donation today.