Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to speak with you about best practices in the area of prosecution and international collaboration.
As a former federal prosecutor, I come before you to testify that human trafficking cases – while difficult – can be successfully investigated and prosecuted. If there is a problem of capacity and ability, those of us who have worked on trafficking cases must engage to help our colleagues become equipped and successful. I think the real difficulty comes with how these cases present themselves to us. As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says, “Let’s call it what it is – modern slavery.” Few would fail to characterize modern slavery as a situation where workers are locked in a factory, denied wages, and subjected to physical abuse; however, that consensus crumbles in cases such as the all too common situation of workers recruited voluntarily in their home countries through fraudulent offers of gainful employment and excessive recruitment fees and subsequently subjected to financial and psychological coercion in a foreign workplace.
Yet it is these more nuanced cases that represent the face of modern slavery. Law enforcement cannot just sit and wait for the most egregious cases to present themselves. We must look beyond the traditional, physical indicators of human trafficking to structures, policies, and practices of today – just as effectively as the shackles and chains of old, but in a far more subtle way.
The United States’ mandate in combating trafficking can be simply stated: we must deploy every tool at our disposal in a strategic and coordinated fashion. We must tackle every form of this crime – whether it has been labeled peonage, involuntary servitude, sex trafficking, debt bondage, or bonded labor. Last year, worldwide, there were just over 4,000 traffickers convicted, of which only 335 convictions were for forced labor. We cannot focus on one form of trafficking over another or one type of victim over another if we truly want to end this crime. We must broaden our efforts to ensure that every man, woman, and child is free from all forms of human trafficking.
This disappointing statistic – 4,000 convictions worldwide – is also a call for greater action and a more robust response to punish traffickers with criminal penalties as called for in the Palermo Protocol. Administrative remedies are not sufficient. Sentences should be sufficiently stringent to deter and adequately reflect the heinous nature of the crime. Very unfortunately, convicted traffickers continue to pay fines, receive suspended sentences, and return to trafficking after just one or two years in jail.
Every country is struggling with this, including the United States where our state laws have a range of sentences. Our federal law, however, provides stiff sentencing of up to life imprisonment in the most egregious cases. Most recently, a child sex trafficker in the State of Maryland received a 37 year sentence and a sex trafficker in the State of Hawaii was sentenced to 25 years. Even our recent forced labor cases have carried sentences of 15 years and above.
There are promising examples of strategic, cooperative initiatives that we can all look to. The first is an innovative cross-border initiative between multiple government agencies in the United States and Mexico. We have partnered with Mexican authorities to exchange intelligence, as well as to develop and implement coordinated investigation and prosecution strategies targeting human trafficking networks operating across the U.S.-Mexico border. This collaboration has resulted in landmark arrests and charges on both sides of the border. Additionally, NGOs, again on both sides of the border, are funded by our governments and ready to provide assistance to victims.
The second initiative I’d like to share with you is within the U.S. Government and is just as cooperative and proactive. The Department of Justice has been working with the Department of Labor to identify and investigate the companies that maintain the highest numbers of temporary guest workers. We are just starting to see the results of this targeted approach. Just last month, six individuals were indicted on charges that they conspired to commit forced labor and document servitude, arising out of their alleged scheme to coerce the labor and services of approximately 400 Thai nationals brought to the United States to work on farms across the country under the U.S. federal agricultural guest worker program. This is the largest human trafficking case ever brought forward in the U.S.
Collectively, we have enough experience and information pointing toward the industries where human trafficking is often found – domestic work, agriculture, construction, restaurants, textile, and other low wage industries. Now it is our duty not to wait for victims to come to us, but for us to find and dismantle these illegal operations that reduce people to the conditions of modern slavery.
The third strategic and cooperative initiative – one which succeeds wherever it is implemented – is the victim-centered approach, incorporating procedures and policies that foster collaboration with both victims and the NGOs that assist them. We strive to adopt a victim-centered approach predicated on the notion that a trafficked person is a crime victim whose rights have been violated. Thus, we not only have a duty to punish the trafficker, but to offer assistance to help restore the victim. For instance, establishing mechanisms that allow for temporary immigration status and work authorization to both restore the trafficked person and incentivize them to participate in the criminal justice system. Not detention and deportation, but comprehensive services and shelter. And not deportation at the end of cooperation or reflection, but an opportunity for permanent immigration status. The American experience with the “T Visa,” which can lead to citizenship, is that there are sufficient checks in place to prevent fraud and that there are not overwhelming numbers of victims coming forward to apply for it. We also provide financial assistance to NGOs to provide services to victims and work closely with them once they identify potential trafficking cases. Indeed, close collaboration with NGOs in combination with a victim-centered approach yields an increase in the number of prosecutions and convictions.
As much as we are here to discuss the specific practices of protection, prevention, and prosecution, our work is about people. It is for them that we have to be hopeful and audacious, and act with urgency. It is for them that we should together dare to pledge that every single person can succeed – will succeed – in a world without modern slavery.