Freedom Network USA applauds the House Judiciary Committee’s letter to Attorney General Barr demanding justification for the cruel and unreasonable restriction on legal services for survivors of human trafficking. When the Department of Justice first introduced a bar on using federal grant funds to represent human trafficking survivors in vacatur and expungement cases, FNUSA led a chorus of survivors, service providers, law enforcement, and prosecutors in expressing our outrage at this policy and imploring the DOJ to change course. DOJ turned a deaf ear.
Trafficking survivors are often forced to commit crimes by their traffickers, in fact it is part of the very definition of sex trafficking. Survivors must not only bear the trauma of the abuse and exploitation, but also criminal records that impede their access to the housing, employment, education, and dignity that are essential to building a safe and successful life. More than half of US states now have a legal mechanism to vacate or expunge these records, but each state law and process is different. This patchwork of remedies requires the assistance of a lawyer to successfully navigate. Investing in this legal representation pays off in survivors who are able to establish successful careers of their own choosing. Without this assistance, many survivors are relegated to low-wage work, unsafe and informal housing, and carrying fear and stigma with them every day. The solution is easy, cost-effective, and immediately available. In fact, the DOJ has already invested in training lawyers across the US to do this work through the Survivor Reentry Project. Simply removing these few sentences from FY18 and FY19 grants will solve this problem.
DOJ must remove these restrictions and resume providing survivor with the full range of legal services and support needed immediately.