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Human Trafficking Prioritization Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, today is an historic day for the House of Representatives, so I would like to begin by offering my profound appreciation for the extraordinary leadership of Majority Leader Eric Cantor for encouraging and moving through this House this very comprehensive package of antitrafficking legislation. I have been in Congress now 34 years, and I have never seen so many bills that are mutually reinforcing, that send a clear, unambiguous message to the world, as well as to our fellow Americans, that we care and we care deeply about the victims, and we want to put the perpetrators behind bars for a very, very long time. Again, I want to thank Eric Cantor for his leadership.

I am very proud to say that the United States continues to lead the world in our trafficking responses at home and abroad. The bills we debate today not only bring relief to trafficking victims, but light the way for the rest of the world to do likewise.

One of the greatest and most successful efforts to transmit our best practices to the rest of the world and to ensure accountability for minimum standards that we created in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act is the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons housed in the U.S. Department of State, created by the legislation I authored known as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

Over the last 15 years, this office has been led by several incredibly talented and dedicated ambassadors who, through their persistence and grit, have turned out the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, laying bare the record of each country for the world to see, and summarizing the country's progress in an annual tier ranking.

Tier 1 countries, for the record, are countries that fully meet the minimum standards prescribed by the act. Tier 2 countries do not meet the minimum standards but are making significant efforts to do so. Tier 3 countries do not meet the standards and are not making significant efforts to do so, and those countries can be held liable through a series of sanctions that are imposed by our government.

Along with Tier 1, 2 and 3, we also have what we call a watch list. Since the TIP report's inception, Mr. Speaker, more than 100 countries have enacted antitrafficking laws, and many countries have taken other steps required to significantly raise their tier rankings, many citing the TIP Report as a key factor in their increased antitrafficking response.

The importance of accurate tier rankings cannot be overstated. Over the years, we have seen countries begin in earnest the hard work of reaching the minimum standards after the TIP Report accurately exposed--with a Tier 3 ranking--each country's failure to take significant action against human trafficking. Whether that country be a close ally or foe, the TIP Report is designed to speak truth to power. And even some of our greatest friends and allies, like South Korea and Israel, have found themselves on Tier 3, only to engage in Herculean efforts to get off Tier 3 and to protect victims and to prosecute the traffickers.

The tier rankings were meant to be and in large part have become a very powerful tool in the fight against trafficking. We have found a system that works. But tragically, it is sometimes muffled, misguided, and marginalized by unrelated bilateral concerns and by the internal structure of the State Department itself.

In the words of Ambassador Mark Lagon, who from 2007 to 2009 was our Ambassador-at-Large to combat human trafficking:

The State Department does a tremendous job in producing a report which tells it like it is, offering objective rankings. Yet at times it pulls punches, typically due to the urging of regional specialists rather than the TIP Office's dedicated experts on trafficking.

This problem is what my bill, the Human Trafficking Prioritization Act, H.R. 2283, seeks to remedy. The Human Trafficking Prioritization Act will keep the fight against human trafficking from being lost in the politics of other U.S. interests by raising the status of the J/TIP ``office'' to that of a ``bureau'' within the U.S. Department of State.

In the words of Ambassador John Miller, who served from 2002 to 2006 as Ambassador-at-Large:

Upgrading the status of the office to a bureau will not create additional bureaucracy, it will simply give J/TIP and the Ambassador-at-Large who heads it equal standing with regional and functional bureaus at the Department of State. That standing is absolutely essential for the issue to remain a priority, especially when multiple U.S. interests are engaged.

H.R. 2283 encourages the Secretary of State to upgrade the ``ambassador-at-large'' position to that of ``Assistant Secretary,'' to lead the bureau without adding to the number of Assistant Secretaries the State Department is permitted by law.

In addition, H.R. 2283 will make it more difficult for countries and some State Department bureaus to game the tier-ranking system by limiting the time period countries can use promises of action to avoid tier downgrading. Currently, a country can sit on the Tier 2 watch list for up to 4 years with Presidential waivers, effectively stringing the U.S. along with promises to take action without ever actually taking action. After 4 years, by law, the country must be automatically downgraded to Tier 3 and, therefore, subject to sanctions.

The law worked very well upon its first implementation in the 2013 reporting cycle. But we discovered a problem this year when China was wrongly and foolishly upgraded from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List. As the law is currently written, China and its enablers at the U.S. Department of State can again game the system for 4 more years. H.R. 2283 will hold countries like China accountable by limiting to 1 year the amount of time a country can stay on the Tier 2 Watch List after the country was previously ordered downgraded to Tier 3.

H.R. 2283 builds on the success of the TIP Office for the sake of the 21 million people still living in modern day slavery, and does so without increasing the cost of government. H.R. 2283 will give the TIP Office the integration and voice it deserves within the State Department and ensure accurate accountability for countries failing to meet the minimum standards for the eliminate of human trafficking.

I respectfully ask my colleagues to support the bill. I would also like to offer special thanks to Gary Haugen, Holly Burkhalter, Tim Gehring, and the grassroots efforts of the International Justice Mission, which has worked so tirelessly to educate Members of Congress on the importance of this bill. I would note parenthetically that at least two of those people, Holly and Gary, especially Gary when we were first writing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, was a frequent contributor to hearings as we crafted the bill, and then when we did the oversight as to how well or poorly the U.S. Department of State was implementing the law. You could always count on Gary Haugen to be there to give a very incisive look at the work that was being done or not being done. So a very special thanks to them for their work on this legislation.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time, and I yield the balance of my time to the gentleman from North Carolina (Mr. Meadows) and ask unanimous consent that he may control that time.

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