TVPRA Would Strengthen U.S. Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking
Washington, D.C.–Human Rights First today welcomed the introduction of The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) today in the House. This bipartisan bill introduced by Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ), Karen Bass (D-CA), Ed Royce (R-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Susan Brooks (R-IN), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Ann Wagner (R-MO) and Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) reauthorizes critical anti-human trafficking programs and strengthens the U.S. government’s approach to combatting trafficking by designating a human trafficking prosecutors in key judicial districts across the United States and enhancing enforcement of bans on the importation of goods produced with forced labor.
“Without adequate resources to investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases traffickers operate with near impunity, exploiting vulnerable people and creating unfair and illegal competition for U.S. businesses. The TVPRA will significantly increase the ability of the U.S. Government and law enforcement to combat the pervasive crime of human trafficking both at home and abroad,” said Human Rights First’s Annick Febrey. “We strongly urge Congress to support this critical legislation and ensure its swift passage.”
The TVPRA, authored by Representative Chris Smith in 2000, is the landmark human trafficking law that outlines the U.S. government’s response to human trafficking both at home and abroad. It has been reauthorized four times since it was initially passed into law, including 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013. The current authorizations expire at the end of September.
A provision in the bill would designate a trafficking prosecutor in U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country, ensuring increased exploration of all potential cases of human trafficking and improving the ability of U.S. Attorney’s Offices to bring traffickers to justice in more complex cases. The designated prosecutors would improve expertise nationwide on successfully applying anti-trafficking statutes to gain convictions, as well as cultivate partnerships between government officials at all levels and service providers that are key to rooting out and prosecuting cases of trafficking.
Human Rights First notes that holding traffickers accountable can be challenging as trafficking cases can be difficult to identify, investigate, and prosecute and therefore only a small fraction of reported cases are prosecuted. In 2015, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 24,757 communications, while only 297 convictions were secured in the United States. More complex human trafficking cases—such as labor trafficking—are especially difficult to identify and can necessitate more interagency coordination requiring additional time and resources. Labor trafficking cases represented only two percent of human trafficking convictions in the United States in 2015, while service providers reported that 48 percent of their clients were labor trafficking victims.
“We know that collaboration across government can also exponentially increase accountability for traffickers,” said Human Rights First’s Annick Febrey. “In districts where there is interagency coordination between representatives from the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Labor, the number of human trafficking cases filed has increased 119 percent. Adding designated prosecutors in judicial districts will foster such collaboration, ensure that best practices and models for identification, investigation, prosecution and treatment of victims are utilized around the country.”
Another critical provision would enhance enforcement of section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930, which bans the importation of any goods produced with forced labor. The bill requires additional transparency of petitions filed and a close examination of what’s working well and where there are challenges surrounding robust enforcement of the law. The bill also asks the Department of Labor International Labor Affairs Bureau to expand their List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor to be more comprehensive in order to be a critical tool in supporting Customs and Border Protection’s ability to identify which goods coming into the U.S. border should be investigated and ensure that slave-made goods do not enter U.S. markets.