The United States is a destination country for thousands of men, women, and children trafficked largely from Mexico and East Asia, as well as countries in South Asia, Central America, Africa, and Europe, for the purposes of sexual and labor exploitation. Three-quarters of all foreign adult victims identified during the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 were victims of trafficking for forced labor. Some trafficking victims, responding to fraudulent offers of employment in the United States, migrate willingly—legally and illegally—and are subsequently subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude or debt bondage at work sites or in commercial sex. An unknown number of American citizens and legal residents are trafficked within the country, primarily for sexual servitude.
The U.S. Government (USG) in 2008 continued to advance the goal of eradicating human trafficking in the United States. This coordinated effort includes several federal agencies and approximately $23 million in FY 2008 for domestic programs to boost anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, identify and protect victims of trafficking, and raise awareness of trafficking as a means of preventing new incidents.
The USG annually assesses its efforts in a separate report compiled by the Department of Justice (DOJ) [see www.usdoj.gov/olp/human_trafficking.htm]. As per recommendations from the May 2008 assessment, the USG is working to ensure that law enforcement agents and serviceproviding grantees, subcontractors, and partners collaborate expeditiously to identify U.S. and foreign victims, provide care, and secure immigration relief, if needed.
The USG sustained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts through the reporting period. The United States prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons through criminal statutes created or strengthened by the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), as amended. Congress most recently reauthorized the TVPA in December 2008 and made numerous statutory improvements. In FY 2008, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices initiated 183 investigations, charged 82 individuals, and obtained 77 convictions in 40 human trafficking cases (13 labor trafficking, 27 sex trafficking). Under the TVPA, traffickers can be sentenced to up to 20 years’ imprisonment per victim, and up to life imprisonment for aggravated circumstances. The average prison sentence imposed for trafficking crimes under the TVPA in FY 2008 was 112 months (9.3 years). The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the DOJ’s Criminal Division continued to combat the exploitation of children in prostitution in the United States through the Innocence Lost National Initiative. In FY 2008, this initiative led to 486 arrests, 148 convictions at state and federal levels, and the recovery of 245 children. Along with the federal government, state governments play an important role in identifying and prosecuting trafficking cases. As of April 2009, 42 states had passed criminal anti-trafficking legislation.
The USG continued to provide strong victim protection services through the year. In December 2008, the USG issued the interim final rule that will allow T-visa recipients to adjust their status and become lawful permanent residents. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) certified 286 foreign adult victims in FY 2008, and issued eligibility letters to 31 foreign minors. Forty-five percent of the 286 certified adult trafficking victims were male, a notable increase from the 30 percent adult male trafficking victims certified in FY 2007 and the six percent adult male trafficking victims certified in FY 2006. Certified victims came from 40 countries. Primary countries of origin were Mexico (66), Thailand (56), Philippines (46), Korea (12), and China (8). Certification and Eligibility Letters allow human trafficking survivors to access services and benefits, comparable to assistance provided by the United States to refugees. The HHS Per-Capita Services contract implemented by civil society partners currently covers 93 sites across the country providing “anytime, anywhere” services to foreign human trafficking victims.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides two principal types of immigration relief authorized by the TVPA: (1) continued presence (CP) to human trafficking victims who are potential witnesses during investigation or prosecution, and (2) T non-immigrant status or “T-visas,” a special self-petitioned visa category for trafficking victims. In FY 2008, DHS/ICE’s Law Enforcement Parole Branch approved 225 requests for CP and 101 requests for extensions of existing CPs. DHS U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued 247 T-visas to foreign survivors of human trafficking identified in the United States and 171 T-visas to their immediate family members.
As part of the assistance provided under the TVPA, the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration funds the Return, Reintegration, and Family Reunification Program for Victims of Trafficking. In calendar year 2008, the program assisted 105 cases. Of these cases, two trafficking victims elected to return to their country of origin, and 103 family members were reunited with trafficking survivors in the United States. Since its inception in 2005, the program has assisted around 250 people from 35 countries.
Prevention efforts increased over the year. In FY 2008, DHS/ ICE launched a human trafficking billboard campaign focused on raising public awareness and prevention and expanded the human trafficking public service announcement into several languages beyond English and Spanish, including Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, Finnish, and Korean. HHS continued to fund the Rescue & Restore Victims of Human Trafficking public awareness campaign. HHS’ National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) provided national training and technical assistance and operated a national hotline (1-888-3737- 888). From December 2007 through the end of FY 2008, the NHTRC received a total of 4,147 calls, including more than 550 tips on possible human trafficking cases and nearly 400 requests for victim care referrals. In FY 2008, HHS increased staff to oversee and promote child welfare best practices in the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s child-serving programs, particularly in the Division of Unaccompanied Children’s Services. HHS also hired a Child Protection Specialist to provide specialized training for identification and care of child trafficking victims.