Reauthorizing Critical Anti-Trafficking Legislation

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 provides critical protection for children from Central America fleeing brutal violence by gangs and narco traffickers, widespread sexual and gender-based violence, human trafficking and devastating abuse from which their governments cannot protect them.

Most of these children — toddlers to teenagers — are deeply affected by the experiences that drove them to take the life-threatening journey thousands of miles to the United States, the journey itself and detention by Customs and Border Protection. Held in large, cold, windowless rooms without beds, these children are terrified of the CBP officials holding them and of what will happen to them.

The 2008 law says unaccompanied children except those from Mexico must be transferred within three days to the Department of Health and Human Services because of the agency’s expertise in child welfare.

This process is vital because it allows the children — and remember these are children — time to recover from their scary journey, be removed from jail-like settings, be screened and cared for by a child protection expert, and find a lawyer to help them seek safety in the United States.

In contrast, CBP officials determine within a few days whether Mexican children can be deported unless the child expresses fear of returning or if trafficking is suspected. A child alone is unlikely to share traumatic experiences with an adult stranger he fears and so soon after this journey. And CBP was found to have failed to screen Mexican children adequately in studies by the Government Accountability Office and the United Nations Refugee Agency, quickly returning most.

Changing the 2008 law to allow unaccompanied children from Central America to be deported hastily would undoubtedly mean returning thousands to grave danger, even death.

Every child will not be found eligible for protection, but every child should have a full and fair chance to make his case. We would want nothing less for the children in our lives.

In order to maintain the integrity of the TIP report, the reauthorization bill ensures that only concrete actions taken by governments can be considered for reporting. Commitments and promises of future programs will no longer be taken into account. When a country ranking changes, the TIP office will provide a detailed explanation of that change to Congress. The hope is that bringing increased transparency into country rankings will restore faith in the TIP report as a tool that exemplifies the international community’s efforts—separately and jointly—to combat and prevent human trafficking.

Protecting the integrity of the TIP report is key in our efforts to push other nations to do better. Designating human trafficking prosecutors in every judicial district shows the rest of the world our commitment to holding traffickers accountable. Encouraging training and greater resources for law enforcement and better services for survivors have the power to influence greater standards across the globe.

The influence the United States has makes each of these provisions a vital example to the world. We urge Congress to pass these bills to continue American leadership in fighting the global scourge of human trafficking.

A key component of this legislation ensures continued U.S. leadership through the State Department Trafficking in Person’s (TIP) report. This annual report determines if countries across the globe are meeting minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking, as defined by the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed in 2000. The report encourages countries to improve their efforts to combat trafficking through a public accountability ranking system.

Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Trafficking Victims Protection (TVPA) Reauthorization Act of 2017 (S.1862), aimed at strengthening U.S. global leadership in the fight to combat modern slavery. Introduced by Senators Corker (R-TN), Cardin (D-MD), Rubio (R-FL), and Menendez (D-NJ), this bill authorizes critical U.S. programs to combat trafficking internationally for the next six years.

Written by: Shireen Sultana