The 2011 report made many good recommendations, as I’ve noted throughout this series (see posts #1, #2, #3, and #4). Actually implementing these will go a long way to eradicating many of the issues I have raised. There does seem to be an effort to genuinely examine our government’s own policies and identify shortcomings. And, of course, overly diplomatic ways of stating certain things is to be expected. But there are some very real shortcomings in U.S. anti-trafficking efforts, problems that may threaten the well-being and even the lives of many trafficked persons, and I hope the U.S. government is really listening to those NGOs whose input the report cites, and that other agencies and branches of government will heed the Department of State’s (DOS) recommendations.
Fixing the problems addressed in this blog series will require effort not just from DOS, but from the Departments of Justice, Labor and Homeland Security as well. Improved labor, immigration and visa regulations, more extensive training of government officials, a stronger engagement with state and local anti-trafficking efforts, and an increase in oversight by agencies over their own officials could all help significantly. DOS seems to recognize much of this.
Congressional action is important too, and at the very least Congress’ reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act later this year will be crucial. Congress will also have the opportunity to address labor and visa issues through the legislative process. Furthermore, legislators could do much to address the shortcomings in the U.S. government’s provision of services to trafficked persons. The DOS report does not give much consideration to legislative issues.
But the most significant omission from the report was an evaluation of the human rights implications raised by the problems DOS identified. Failures of protection or assistance to trafficked persons, abuse or misuse of official power, disparities in state laws, as well as systemic flaws in visa programs that traffickers can exploit can all – directly or indirectly – result in serious human rights violations.
Its good that DOS seems concerned with remedying problems, but their approach looks more at symptoms than at the disease. U.S. anti-trafficking policy is not designed around the goal of protecting the human rights – or even the lives – of trafficked persons. It is primarily a criminal justice scheme, and victim protection and assistance are corollary to that. Since programs are generally not designed with victims’, or potential victims’, interests at the forefront, vulnerabilities get built into the system that only become apparent later and are not always easily or quickly remedied.
Trafficking prosecutions are on the rise, but many trafficked persons remain in danger, impoverished, and without access to justice. Assistance must be available to more than just those who are able to navigate the regulatory obstacle course of the T visa process, or those who are fortunate enough to have the Department of Justice prosecute their traffickers. And improvements in preventive efforts such as those DOS recommends for employment visa programs must be made reality. The U.S. government has long recognized that trafficking constitutes a severe human rights violation, but, perhaps, has not quite grasped that how we respond to the issue of trafficking also has human rights implications.