Human Trafficking is one of the widely spreading pandemics in today’s world. While the United States has been on the list of top countries in the world, it is unfortunate that this country also suffers from a plague like Human trafficking. Although U.S. generally serves as a destination country, it doesn’t make the issue any simpler. The Department of State rates the country as Tier 1 on the tier system which means that the country is enforcing suitable laws against human trafficking.
This paper reviews the current situation pertaining to human trafficking in the United States and the legislations which are being implemented to reduce the severity of it.
One of the greatest human rights violations in today’s world is human trafficking and it has been growing on an alarming rate. Human trafficking represents one of the greatest violations of human rights today. Every year, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders, 80% of them are females and about half of them are children (Trafficking in Persons Report,2004).
This epidemic is so complicated since it has various flows around not just neighboring or within countries but across different continents. In 2014, the amount of different trafficking flows was more than 500 (Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 2016). The United States is mostly a destination country and hardly an origin for trafficking. According to the annual report from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), most of the victims who are brought into North America are from East Asia, the Pacific, Central America, and the Caribbean.
The Foundation of Federal human trafficking legislation is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) 2000 which provides a way to prosecute traffickers, combat human trafficking and protect the victims. According to the Department of Justice, trafficking in persons is defined as;
So, we can say it’s a modern-day form of slavery. Although trafficking could be of various forms, more than 90% constitutes of labor and sex trafficking (Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 2016). Human trafficking is a federal crime in the United States and this is being constantly monitored by different federal agencies. The U.S. Department of state has established an office to monitor and combat human trafficking and they are required to publish a Trafficking in persons report every year detailing each country’s anti-trafficking efforts and then tier-rating them according to that information.
As mentioned above, TVPA is a federal policy that was introduced in 2000 in order to combat human trafficking in the United States and internationally. To make sure that TVPA is being implemented appropriately, an Interagency Task Force was also created under this act. In addition, this act allows trafficked victims to stay as temporary resident in the United States under T-Visa and after 3 years they can apply for permanent residency in the country. TVPA has been amended four times since it was enacted in 2000.
In 2003, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization act (TVPRA) was introduced which extended the rights of victims to prosecute their traffickers including viable restitution and their protection against deportation. This re-enactment also allowed human trafficking to be charged under Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) statute (Polaris, 2016). Additionally, it was made imperative that Attorney General report to the U.S. Congress every year on the actions to combat human trafficking.
In 2005, TVPRA included few more provisions in this act. TVPRA of 2005 focused on the protection and sheltering of the survivors of human trafficking, extended provisions on sex tourism and added various grant programs to have state and local enforcement fight this issue. Moreover, government agencies were advised to not do any contracts with companies who might be involved in trafficking.
In 2008, TVPRA of 2008 was presented which included comprehensive details and definitions of different types of trafficking. It was mandated that government needs to provide worker’s rights information to all the people who are coming to United States for work or education (Polaris, 2016). New human trafficking data reporting systems were added and protections within T-Visa was extended. Another mandatory addition to this act was that the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) unit of FBI would start collecting data on human trafficking which is a principal unit for gauging crime in the United States (Farrell & Reichert, 2017).
Lastly TVPRA of 2013 introduced the Violence Against Women Act as an amendment that launched programs to confirm that products made by trafficked victims in different countries are not being purchased by U.S. citizens. This sanction also announced emergency response by the state department towards the disaster-struck areas where there is a possibility of trafficking. Furthermore, familiarized state and local police department collaborations to prosecute traffickers (Polaris, 2016). According to the U.S. Department of State, penalties for performing an act of trafficking and benefiting financially or otherwise are quite stringent which includes mandatory restitution and time in prison depending upon the seriousness of the crime (Trafficking in Persons Report, 2018).
When we talk about human trafficking, we generally jump to sex trafficking because how the media portrays it. Movies like “Taken” suddenly comes to our minds but it is far more complicated than that, and while sex trafficking and forced labor are the main forms of trafficking constituting 79% and 18% respectively, the remaining 3% is other forms such as forced begging, removal of organs, forced marriage, child soldiers among others (Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 2016). The trafficking cases are investigated by the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice and assistance is provided to the victims while investigations and prosecution of such cases.
It is quite an accomplishment for the United States to be a Tier 1 country for about 10 years but are we a Tier 1 country in all authenticity? These tiers were designed by the U.S. Department of State and so does the TVPA. The Trafficking Victims Protection Law is transnational legislation which is designed by the United States but countries who fail to comply or make significant efforts against human trafficking are rated poorly on the tier system. There has been significant debate and doubt about whether the U.S. government is doing the right thing by enforcing their laws onto other countries (Hendrix, 2010). Another issue with TVPA is that the criminal justice system holds main position in assessing and concluding the position of the victim (Clawson et al. (2003). The purpose of TVPA is stated as 3-Ps i.e. Prosecution, Prevention, and Protection but how can we accomplish that when the lives of trafficked persons are based on global market controls and their major goal is to provide food and shelter to their families.
Trafficked people are typically considered as criminals more than victims in the situations, they are usually found. Most of the trafficked people are from countries with dreadful economic distress which has lured them into the world of international trafficking in the first place and if the law enforcement treats them as criminals which can result in deportation following incarceration will certainly suffer again (Noyori-Corbett and Moxley, 2016). If the victim fails to prove that they have been subjected to a severe form of trafficking, authorities usually just send them back to their countries which would put them in difficult if not lethal situations. Another concern is that the United States have been making it a criminal justice issue while it comprises of severe human rights violation. Since the enactment of TVPA in 2000, human trafficking has been a hot topic for lot of researchers but surprisingly there are no significant findings on the topic and the reason for that would be difficult with acquiring the exact numbers and deficient data cannot yield the results which are useful in making amends. One of the outrageous realities of the human trafficking in the United States is that U.S. diplomats and international organization employees are found to guilty of trafficking of domestic workers. This issue wasn’t addressed until the 2008 William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims protection reauthorization act.
Criminal prosecution with respect to trafficking is very rare in the United States despite the 2008 reauthorization act and the main reason is strong immunities. Vandenberg and Bessell (2016) found that criminal prosecutions were likely to be brought against representatives with lesser immunity. In severe cases, U.S. government ask for immunity waiver for prosecution and one of the examples of such cases is the U.S. v/ Khobrabade (2014). In 2013, Devyani Khobrabade (Deputy Consul general of India) was arrested by the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service for making false statements to obtain a visa for her domestic worker and didn’t pay her according to the U.S. minimum wage standards. It was found that Indian government officials tried to make false statements on Khobrabade’s diplomatic immunity status which blew up this diplomatic case even more. Khobrabade is an international fugitive and is subjected to immediate arrest at arrival in the United States. This is one of the 3 cases which had been filed against the Indian consulate in New York. Unfortunately, most of the cases are not even reported which gives more power to the traffickers (Vandenberg and Bessell, 2016).
According to United Nations, 71% of all trafficking victims are women and girls. Women are mostly trafficked from different countries and generally for sex trade and domestic servitude. These women most likely are going to face problems with respect to the language, laws of United States and for sure would need someone who understands them and would be able to represent them despite concrete evidence in most cases. The Human Trafficking Legal Center in Washington D.C., a team of pro-bono lawyers and researchers works towards this issue by fighting for the victims of human trafficking. There are many conditions which needs to be met before a woman is certified as “severely trafficked” and even when they meet all the criterion of being one, they are usually afraid that the government is going to retaliate which keeps them from co-operating (Noyori-Corbett and Moxley, 2016).
Since human trafficking is measured by UCR primarily, it was found that cases were underreported and the ones which were reported contained many false positives. In 2017, Farrell and Reichert found that very few human trafficking cases were identified and prosecuted but UCR crime reporting can be improved by identifying human trafficking is identified as part- I violent crime and adding it to the crime reporting programs in all the states, incentivizing reporting of the human trafficking cases and providing more enhanced trainings for law enforcement officials. Keeping adverse psychological, social and legal consequences should be the most important factors to address when framing the eligibility criteria in determining victim certification (Noyori-Corbett and Moxley, 2016). Social and economic factors play a big part in someone who has been trafficked. Shame is something which is associated with women who had been trafficking in many countries which can keep them from leading a normal life. This is one of the reasons that restitution is so important in cases of Human trafficking but unfortunately it hardly ever collected (Levy and Vandenberg, 2018).
Traffickers all around the world especially from South America and South Asian countries choose United States as the destination country because they are aware of the effect of the great “American Dream”. The easiest way to lure people into trafficking is to show them the best side of America and that includes the better currency and better lifestyle. Since the trafficked victims are mostly women and children from developing or underdeveloped countries, they are usually under the impression that they are just getting a job to support their family or children but instead they are traded for either forced labor or sex. These people have no idea about the language, laws, currency, and American culture which makes it easier for the traffickers to get away with it. In some of the cases where the trafficked person does get a chance to go to the court, the process of certification is so lengthy that most of the victims are not even able to collect their restitution. It has been seen that restitution orders have been decreased significantly between 2014-2016 (Levy and Vandenberg, 2018).
Every year hundreds of people are trafficked to the United States for various purposes but mainly for labor. After the destruction created by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Many Indian workers were lured into working at the shipyards by assuring them that they will be able to get a permanent residency in U.S. The company Signal International is a marine and fabrication company with shipyards in multiple states. They also serve as a contractor for multiple Multi-national companies (ACLU, 2013). Approximately 500 workers were trafficked into the country on federal H2-B visa (Temporary guest worker visa) and were forced to live in foul conditions, coerced labor, and were threatened of physical harm if they tried speaking against the employer. The passports and remaining travel documents of these workers were seized by the hiring agents at the marine industry company, Signal International. The agents also forced them to pay an additional hefty amount of fees for recruitment, visa processing and travel arrangements. These men were compelled to live at the company’s congested labor camps where they were abused psychologically and were repeatedly denied compensation for their work (ACLU, 2013).
In 2008, Signal international was sued on by the 12 plaintiffs who were trafficked by the company. The case was represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) along with other pro-bono law firms. In 2012, it was ruled by the federal judge in New Orleans that the cases are supposed to be brought in individually against Signal International. So, in 2013 mass lawsuits against the company was filed accusing them for violation of TVPA and RICO. In 2015, after 4-week trial, jury decided that the company along with a New Orleans lawyer and an India-based hiring agent were engaged in labor trafficking, racketeering, discrimination, and fraud. Signal international along with its representatives were ordered to pay $14 million to five of the total victims. Following David v. Signal International, many pro-bono law firms started to work for the victims of trafficking in United States to serve the traffickers right (ACLU, 2013).
It is imperative that the above-mentioned issues are kept in consideration in incoming TVPA reauthorizations. It has been found that in developed countries, taking economic and social welfare actions for trafficked women can help in combatting trafficking much more than the developing countries but this reflects that by working on the socio-economic status of trafficked women we can achieve better results (Noyori-Corbett and Moxley, 2016). The goal of future research should focus on the social, psychological and economic factors affecting vulnerable people in different countries since TVPA affects not only United States but also other countries.
There are pros and cons to a transnational legislations and it could be really helpful if the focus is on pros more than cons of such legislations. United States have the power to steer in the direction which is most effective ways to combat human trafficking and other countries will follow to stay in the good tier ranking. We should also focus on the relationship between human rights community and law enforcement and how they can work together to work on this issue. The programs which were developed to help victims and combat human trafficking clearly not practical enough which is why this issue needs rigorous empirical research which could be the base for future programs such as investigating the relationship between immigration policies for different countries and key factors which affects one to be susceptible to trafficking. There should be training set ups for statewide law enforcement to have a better understanding of the human trafficking cases.