Despite the negative political climate surrounding immigration in the United States, legislation pertaining to human trafficking has gained traction and bi-partisan support in the past year. In 2017, the Trump Administration’s “travel ban,” reports of increased immigration enforcement, and proposals to restrict immigration visas, dominated the news coverage. Accordingly, the House’s unanimous vote on July 12, 2017 which re-authorized federal law to combat human trafficking went largely unnoticed. “H.R. 2200 is known as the Frederick Douglass….of 2017. A bipartisan coalition of House Representatives from across the country introduced this bill. In the words of President Trump, this law is ‘an important step’ towards ‘ending the horrific practice of human trafficking.’”
Congress enacted the first Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000 and has reauthorized it four times since, establishing the United States as a global leader in the fight against modern-day slavery. Nevertheless, since it’s passage in 2000, over 20.9 million men, women, and children worldwide have been induced through force, fraud, or coercion to perform commercial sex acts or work in a wide swath of industries, including manufacturing, restaurant, agriculture, and domestic services. According to International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates, fifty-five percent are women and girls, and twenty-six percent are children.
From the beginning, the TVPA’s goal has been to identify and protect survivors, punish traffickers, and prevent new cases by addressing factors that make individuals and communities vulnerable to human trafficking. The TVPA provides a legal definition of human trafficking, dedicates funding for legal, social, and other services for survivors, makes resources available for law enforcement investigations and prosecutions, establishes criminal sentences for traffickers, and supports a broad range of training and outreach initiatives.
The House’s reauthorization of the TVPA in 2017 expanded measures for investigating human trafficking, increased prevention strategies, and bolstered protections for victims. Key components included:
- Strengthening the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report and Country Tier Rankings by removing the possibility of manipulation for diplomatic, economic, or political considerations;
- Allowing the State Department and law enforcement agencies to offer bounties for the arrest and/or conviction of human traffickers;
- Expanding training for federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies;
- Promoting training for civilians in the airline, hotel and other industries on how to identify and assist potential victims;
- Directing law enforcement agencies to take a more victim-centered approach in investigating and prosecuting cases of human trafficking and to refrain from arresting and prosecuting victims for crimes that they were forced to commit as part of the human trafficking situations; and
- Requiring law enforcement agencies to screen for victims in populations where they are more likely to be found.
In addition to its domestic efforts, the new TVPA mandates the release of a Department of State report that determines annually the extent to which countries across the globe are meeting minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking. The State Department’s published assessment places public pressure on countries to improve their efforts to combat trafficking through a public accountability ranking system. In order to ensure country action, the reauthorized Act ensures that only concrete actions taken by governments are considered for reporting. Empty promises of future legislation and far away commitments are no longer taken into account with the new TVPA. As a result, lawmakers hope to bring increased transparency to the widespread global trafficking problem and to keep nations, whose combative efforts fail to prevent human trafficking within their borders, accountable.
The 2017 passing of the TVPA marks a landmark piece of federal human trafficking legislation that passed in a mere three months in both the House and the Senate – a bureaucratic miracle in the current political climate. The TVPA legislation is proof that despite the Congress’ ongoing immigration battle, eradicating human trafficking seems to be one issue everyone in Washington can agree on.