This is post # 2 in my series on the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report. (See post # 1 here). Today I’m addressing the report’s evaluation of the U.S. government’s training programs to help officials identify and assist trafficked persons.
The report includes highlights of various training programs, as well as recommendations for additional ones. Perhaps most impressive is that all asylum field offices have held trainings to identify trafficking victims among their asylum applicants, and all future asylum officers must receive this training. Naturally, however, this raised a question: what about immigration judges? Many asylum seekers’ claims are never filed until after they are in removal proceedings, and thus an immigration judge is the only official to review their application. Extending the training program to immigration judges will help a far broader number of trafficking victims; limiting it to asylum officers halves its effectiveness.
The Department of State’s (DOS) report also notes that Department of Labor (DOL) investigators, often the first government officials to discover labor exploitation, are not given specific trafficking-related training, and the report recommends providing such training. DOS also noted that detention and removal officers are not trained to identify trafficked persons, and recommends training them. As evidence of the problem, the report notes examples cited by NGOs of potential trafficking victims held in immigration detention or placed into removal proceedings. While more could undoubtedly be said on that, DOS has at least highlighted the issue; the lack of training for DOL and detention officers is clearly a problem and it needs to be remedied. Let’s hope the recommendation is meant seriously.
One of the most troubling characterizations of an issue was DOS’s discussion of the 287(g) program. The program, as explained in the report, “authorizes state and local law enforcement agencies to carry out enforcement of certain immigration authorities related to the investigation, apprehension, and detention of unauthorized immigrations.” As an example of a good practice, the report points out that the training for law enforcement agencies that participate includes information about assisting trafficked persons. Then the report briefly mentions that NGOs have cited examples of non-citizen trafficking victims being afraid to report crimes to the police in 287(g) jurisdictions. No recommendation is made regarding this problem.
The way the report makes such bare mention of the problem is troubling enough. DOS could have perhaps more accurately stated the issue: the 287(g) program has probably impeded the discovery of trafficking situations and the provision of assistance to victims. Many advocates, as well as law enforcement officials in non-287(g) jurisdictions, have complained that the program will cause undocumented immigrants to avoid reporting crimes to the police, for fear of being detained on an immigration basis or deported. Advocates have also complained of racial profiling and other abuses of the program, problems apparently too unrelated to anti-trafficking efforts to be mentioned in the report. Given these issues, it seems unlikely that any training on trafficking will actually result in greater assistance being provided to trafficked persons in 287(g) jurisdictions.
The training of asylum officers is a great first step, and DOL training should also prove a benefit for many trafficked persons. But the mere existence of a training program or training materials does not ensure that all the needs of trafficked persons will be met. Nor does it absolve the U.S. government of responsibility for overseeing its agencies and programs. I hope that the government takes the complaints it receives about programs like 287(g) more seriously than it appears from this report.