Legislation that will protect victims trafficked across and within our borders, introduced by Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) and Sam Brownback (R-KS), passed by vote of 17-2 out of the Judiciary Committee today. The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (S. 3061), a four year reauthorization act, comprehensively strengthens and improves existing laws to prevent and prosecute human trafficking, as well as offers protection and services to victims of human trafficking. Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) are also co-sponsors of the bill.
"Human trafficking is a global problem that victimizes the most vulnerable among us," said Sen. Biden. "Thousands of men and women are shipped into this country every year, and countless more are subjugated within our borders, to be abused and brutalized in this horrendous form of modern day slavery. I strongly urge my colleagues to support this reauthorization and to pass it in the Senate as quickly as possible."
According to the most recent State Department report, roughly 800,000 individuals are trafficked each year, the overwhelming majority of them women and children. The FBI estimates approximately $9.5 billion dollars is generated annually for organized crime from trafficking in persons. And the International Labor Organization estimates that, at present, 2.4 million persons have been trafficked into situations of forced labor.
Sen. Brownback said, "I am pleased that my Senate colleagues on the Judiciary Committee have come together to make a difference in the fight against slavery. The bill which passed the Judiciary Committee today strengthens law enforcement officials' ability to investigate and bring to justice individuals engaged in human trafficking. While today marks a great step forward in combating modern day slavery, we must continue to fight to protect the freedom of every person."
Senator Biden and Brownback's legislation focuses on U.S. government efforts to monitor and combat trafficking internationally. Provisions include:
Conferring additional responsibilities on the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking (called the "TIP" Office) to work on public-private partnerships to combat trafficking; and
Providing the Director of the TIP office the ability to review anti-trafficking programs that are housed elsewhere in the State department to allow for greater coordination and efficiency in programming.
The bill also toughens the U.S. stance on countries that are not making significant progress combating trafficking. It provides for an automatic downgrade on the Watch List from Tier 2 to Tier 3 (countries which are not making progress to eliminate trafficking and are subject to elimination of non-humanitarian US aid) if a country has been on the Tier 2 Watch List for three consecutive years. In addition, it strengthens U.S. efforts to eliminate the use of child soldiers globally by prohibiting U.S. military assistance or sales of military equipment to countries that recruit or use child soldiers.
In addition, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act:
Provides critical additional protections by permitting parents and siblings of victims who are in danger abroad to come to the U.S., by making visas available to victims who may be too traumatized physically or psychologically to help police and prosecutors, and easing the burdens of applying for green cards;
Requires that information about basic rights and protections be provided to anyone entering the country on a work-based, non-immigrant visa;
Expands existing programs for trafficking victims and provides essential protections to unaccompanied immigrant children;
Requires the establishment of an integrated federal database on trafficking patterns and trends; and
Tightens existing criminal penalties - including penalizing criminals who profit from human trafficking; creating a separate offense for obstructing, interfering or attempting to interfere with enforcement of trafficking statutes; and expanding jurisdiction to include traffickers in the United States even when the prohibited conduct occurred entirely outside the United States.
A number of law enforcement officers and prosecutors at every level of government as well as Victims Service and Advocacy Organizations have endorsed Sen. Biden and Sen. Brownback's approach, including the Fraternal Order of Police, the National District Attorneys Association, and the National Association of Attorneys General, the Department of Justice, Mosaic, Freedom Network, Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), Break the Chain Campaign, Safe Horizons and Legal Momentum.