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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Tier 1

The Government of the United States fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period; therefore the United States remained on Tier 1. These efforts included increasing the number of investigations, increasing the amount of funding for victim services, and increasing enforcement of the prohibition of imports made wholly or in part by forced labor. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it prosecuted fewer cases and secured convictions against fewer traffickers, issued fewer victims trafficking-specific immigration benefits, and did not adequately screen vulnerable populations for human trafficking indicators. Anti-trafficking advocates reported a continued lack of sustained effort to address labor trafficking, increased obstacles for foreign nationals to secure victim protections, and a systemic inability to prevent traffickers from using employment-based and other nonimmigrant visa programs.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

Increase investigation and prosecution of labor trafficking cases. Reduce obstacles for victims to appropriately obtain trafficking-specific immigration options. Increase the number of trafficking investigations and prosecutions. Increase and diversify efforts to proactively identify potential trafficking victims among populations vulnerable to human trafficking. Seek to ensure immigration enforcement does not hinder human trafficking criminal law enforcement or victim protections. Increase access to victim services for men, boys, LGBTI individuals, and labor trafficking survivors, and improve access to stable housing for all victims. Screen all individuals in immigration detention or custody for human trafficking indicators. Increase the number of requests by federal law enforcement officials for Continued Presence. Mitigate vulnerabilities in employment-based or other nonimmigrant U.S. visa programs, including by providing protections for those who report program violations to encourage others to come forward. Encourage state and local authorities to implement policies not to prosecute victims for the unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. Develop and implement early intervention services approaches and inclusive government policies that reduce the vulnerabilities of marginalized and disadvantaged communities traffickers often target. Train prosecutors and judges to increase the number of forfeiture orders and mandatory restitution orders for trafficking victims. Increase survivor engagement, including by more systematically incorporating survivor input when forming policies, programs, and trainings. Strengthen efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex. Increase enforcement of the law that prohibits the importation of goods made wholly or in part by forced labor. As described in the Methodology section of this report, these recommendations were drawn from input from multiple anti-trafficking stakeholders, including NGOs and advocates, as well as from government agencies and reports, on the degree to which the United States meets the minimum standards set forth in the TVPA.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained prosecution efforts. The government increased the number of investigations, but the number of prosecutions decreased for the second year in a row, and the number of convictions decreased. The TVPA, as amended and codified at Title 18 U.S. Code sections 1581, et seq., criminalizes sex and labor trafficking. The penalties prescribed under these provisions, which can include up to life imprisonment, are sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. U.S. law also prohibits conspiracy and the attempt to violate these provisions, as well as obstruction of the statutes’ enforcement and the financial benefit from these acts. Additionally, a criminal statute on fraud in foreign labor contracting prohibits the use of fraud to recruit workers abroad to work in the United States or on a U.S. government contract performed outside the United States, on U.S. property, or on military installations outside the United States.

The Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of State (State), and Department of Defense (DoD) are the primary investigating agencies for federal human trafficking and other related offenses, with DOJ prosecuting federal human trafficking cases. DOJ, DHS, and State also support victims by engaging law enforcement victim assistance specialists during trafficking investigations and prosecutions, including by connecting identified victims to victim service providers. In fiscal year (FY) 2019, DHS increased the number of its forensic interview specialists from six to 30 and increased the number of its victim assistance specialists from 27 to 35. DOJ, in coordination with DHS and the Department of Labor (DOL), continued to develop complex human trafficking investigations and prosecutions through the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) Initiative. Districts participating in the second phase of this initiative increased the number of trafficking defendants charged and convicted by 75 and 106 percent, respectively, as compared to about seven and 28 percent, respectively, in non-ACTeam districts. DOJ, DHS, and DOL initiated an analysis of resource commitments necessary to launch the third phase of the ACTeam Initiative. In addition to previously funded Enhanced Collaborative Model (ECM) anti-trafficking task forces, DOJ provided $21 million in FY 2019 to fund 15 task forces, which include 13 state and local law enforcement agencies and 12 victim service providers, compared to $23.1 million for 17 ECM task forces funded in FY 2018. Several federal agencies participated in other human trafficking task forces nationwide consisting of federal, state, and local law enforcement, as well as victim service providers.

Survivor advocates called on federally funded task forces to continue to increase engagement with local survivor leaders.

The federal government reports its law enforcement data by fiscal year, which may include joint federal and state or local initiatives but does not include separate state law enforcement data. In FY 2019, DHS opened 1,024 investigations related to human trafficking, an increase from 849 in FY 2018. DOJ formally opened 607 human trafficking investigations, a decrease from 657 in FY 2018. State reported opening 134 human trafficking-related cases worldwide during FY 2019, a decrease from 148 in FY 2018. In FY 2019, DoD reported investigating 65 human trafficking-related cases involving DoD military, civilian, and contractor personnel, a decrease from 119 in FY 2018. (Last year, the 119 cases involving DoD personnel in FY 2018 were reported separately as two human trafficking cases (2019 TIP Report, page 485) and 117 cases of alleged violations of DoD’s prohibition on procuring commercial sex (2019 TIP Report, page 490).)

DOJ initiated a total of 220 federal human trafficking prosecutions in FY 2019, a decrease from 230 in FY 2018, and charged 343 defendants, a decrease from 386 in FY 2018. Of these FY 2019 prosecutions, 208 involved predominantly sex trafficking and 12 involved predominantly labor trafficking, compared to 213 and 17 in FY 2018, respectively.

During FY 2019, DOJ secured convictions against 475 traffickers, a decrease from 526 convictions in FY 2018. Of these, 454 involved predominantly sex trafficking and 21 involved predominantly labor trafficking, compared to 501 and 25 in FY 2018, respectively.

These prosecutions and convictions include cases brought under trafficking-specific criminal statutes and non-trafficking criminal statutes, but they do not include child sex trafficking cases brought under non-trafficking statutes. Among the 266 traffickers sentenced to prison in cases brought under trafficking-specific criminal statutes, which excludes trafficking cases brought under non-trafficking statutes, terms ranged from one month to life imprisonment, with more than 78 percent of defendants receiving prison sentences of five or more years. Four traffickers received a probation-only sentence, and 11 received a suspended sentence.

DOJ convened consultations among DOJ’s anti-trafficking experts nationwide to address factors contributing to decreases in trafficking prosecutions. DHS collaborated with DOJ to train federal investigators and prosecutors on building effective human trafficking cases.

DOJ and DHS continued to advance bilateral investigations and prosecutions of transnational trafficking enterprises operating across the U.S.-Mexico border and facilitate exchanges of leads, intelligence analytics, and case mentoring between U.S. and Mexican anti-trafficking authorities. During the reporting period, DOJ increased its engagement with Mexican state-level human trafficking task forces through this initiative. The Department of the Treasury (Treasury) continued to analyze and disseminate information received from financial institutions related to human trafficking and partnered with domestic and foreign government stakeholders to support human trafficking investigations. In May 2019, Treasury launched a bilateral anti-corruption initiative with Mexico targeting four priorities, including human trafficking, which led to the formation of a task force to hold human traffickers and perpetrators of related financial crimes accountable. Treasury also has anti-money laundering and sanctions authorities, which it may use to target the finances of international human traffickers worldwide. Treasury convened more than 100 NGOs, industry, and government partners to enhance coordination on illicit finance and human trafficking networks. In FY 2019, DOL assisted in two criminal prosecutions that resulted in the incarceration of two traffickers and restitution of nearly $400,000. DOJ continued to train federal human trafficking prosecutors on restitution for victims. In FY 2019, the first two operations of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general’s initiative to find children missing from foster care, including those at risk for human trafficking, led to the identification of more than 40 missing children, five arrests, and four human trafficking investigations.

Advocates continued to call for federal prosecutors to seek, and for courts to award, mandatory restitution for both sex and labor trafficking cases, citing concerns about both the low number of cases in which it was ordered and the low rate of payment of restitution to trafficking victims consistent with restitution orders. One NGO noted the number of defendants convicted of a crime that triggered mandatory restitution ordered to pay restitution in 2019 remained at approximately 40 percent. Advocates also called for increased training of prosecutors and judges on mandatory restitution, urged the government to use its available authorities, such as forfeiture and impoundment, to ensure compliance with restitution orders, and noted that, while not required, victim witnesses lack independent legal counsel to assist in obtaining restitution on their behalf.

Advocates reported very few labor trafficking cases they referred to law enforcement were investigated and called for increased training of relevant officials and efforts to identify, investigate, and prosecute labor trafficking cases. NGOs and a study released during the reporting period noted insufficient resources dedicated to investigating and prosecuting labor trafficking cases. They also cited a lack of familiarity with how forced labor takes place in various employment settings inhibited law enforcement’s ability to increase such cases.

State laws form the basis of most criminal actions in the United States. All U.S. states and territories have anti-trafficking criminal statutes. In addition, 45 states had laws allowing survivors to seek a court order vacating, expunging, or sealing criminal convictions entered against them that resulted from unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, although in four of these states such relief only applied to child trafficking victims. At least 34 states had “safe harbor” laws, which are meant to prevent child sex trafficking victims from being prosecuted for commercial sex.

One NGO reported the degree of relief available under some state vacatur laws for trafficking victims with criminal records resulting from unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit was limited. In addition, NGO and survivor advocates called for the adoption of federal vacatur legislation.

Advocates continued to report trafficking victims were arrested at the state and local levels for the unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit, including commercial sex, drug trafficking, and possession of false identification documents, and even in some states with “safe harbor” laws, child victims were arrested. One NGO noted only 18 states protected child sex trafficking victims from being prosecuted for crimes other than commercial sex, including loitering, drug possession, and indecent exposure. An NGO expressed concern with the practice of law enforcement threatening criminal charges against trafficking victims to compel them to cooperate in a case against their trafficker.

The federal government continued to collect state and local data on human trafficking investigations during the reporting period through the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. Data from 2018 collected from participating jurisdictions are publicly available. Participating jurisdictions represented 94 percent of U.S. states in 2018, compared to 90 percent the previous year. (The 2017 percentage (90) represents a correction to the percentage cited last year (78).) Not all agencies within all states have the ability to report data to the UCR Program. In 2018, participating jurisdictions reported a total of 548 human trafficking offenses resulting in arrest or solved for crime reporting purposes, a slight increase from 545 in 2017. There is no other formal mechanism for the federal government to track prosecutions at the state and local levels.

The government took actions to address alleged complicity in human trafficking by government employees. Two active duty military officers were charged with sex trafficking. A U.S. naval officer was found guilty of sex trafficking. A municipal law enforcement officer was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for sex trafficking involving two children.

The U.S. government continued to build the capacity of law enforcement, judges, military personnel, and labor inspectors, among others, to more effectively respond to human trafficking cases. DOJ conducted new training for law enforcement and financial units on asset forfeiture, restitution, and how money laundering and financial charges can enhance human trafficking prosecutions. DOJ, in coordination with an international association of police chiefs, developed and implemented training to increase investigative and prosecutorial capacity to address labor trafficking. DOJ also funded the delivery of new training to state and local practitioners on effective strategies to investigate and prosecute labor trafficking. In October 2019, DOJ held a workshop for federal human trafficking prosecutors in which survivors provided training on victim-centered, trauma-informed approaches to law enforcement. DOJ also released a series of web-based trainings for prosecutors that featured survivor experts training on victim-centered approaches. DHS launched new introductory-level human trafficking awareness training for 110 federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement officers in FY 2019. DHS also trained more than 2,800 federal law enforcement officers on human trafficking indicators in its federal training centers’ basic training programs and trained foreign law enforcement, prosecutors, and victim service providers from 50 countries. DoD requires all its investigative professionals to take training on human trafficking investigations. DoD integrated trafficking in persons scenarios into its joint exercises and trainings for more than 2,100 foreign personnel and military members from 110 partner countries. The Department of the Interior (DOI) provided training to about 900 of its law enforcement officers, first responders, contracting officers, as well as other federal, state, tribal, and local organizations on human trafficking. State trained its agents and analysts who investigate and support human trafficking cases to identify networks and engage with survivors using a victim-centered approach. In 2019, State’s six international law enforcement training facilities hosted 11 courses on trafficking in persons and child exploitation, developing nearly 400 contacts from 24 countries. State also trained more than 8,200 foreign law enforcement and immigration counterparts through other programs.

One NGO called for more training on trauma-informed care during the criminal justice process to avoid retraumatizing victims who choose to testify against their trafficker. Survivor advocates called on the government to ensure law enforcement trainings, including on labor trafficking investigations and cultural sensitivity, are developed in consultation with survivor leaders.

PROTECTION

The government decreased protection efforts. While the government increased funding for victim assistance for trafficking victims from the previous year, the number of victims served decreased. The number of victims granted T nonimmigrant status also decreased, and the government granted fewer Certification Letters providing access to benefits and services to foreign national adult victims of trafficking.

The government had formal procedures to guide officials in victim identification and referral to service providers; funded several federal tip lines, including an NGO-operated national hotline and referral service; and funded victim assistance organizations that provided trafficking-specific services. Comprehensive victim assistance funded by the federal government includes case management and referrals for medical and dental care, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, sustenance and shelter, translation and interpretation services, immigration and legal assistance, employment and training, transportation assistance, and other services.

DOJ provided funding for victim-centered services for both foreign national and domestic trafficking victims. Record-keeping systems used by DOJ and HHS did not allow for cross-referencing to determine which victims were served by both agencies. HHS issued Certification and Eligibility Letters to foreign national victims of severe forms of trafficking to be eligible to apply for benefits and services to the same extent as refugees, provided grant funding for comprehensive case management for foreign national and domestic trafficking victims, and funded capacity-building grants for community-based organizations and child welfare systems to respond to trafficking.

During FY 2019, DOJ provided $42.9 million for 65 victim service providers offering comprehensive and specialized services across the United States. This represents a significant increase from 45 providers receiving $31.2 million in FY 2018. In addition, DOJ provided new funding to support several different initiatives: for specialized services for child victims of trafficking ($15.5 million), for filling gaps and improving the victim services field’s response to human trafficking ($4.4 million), and for training and technical assistance to improve services offered to labor trafficking victims nationwide ($1 million). DOJ also provided $4.7 million to support specialized services and mentoring for child and youth victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, compared to $1.8 million in FY 2018. DOJ grantees providing victim services reported from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, 8,375 open trafficking client cases, a decrease from 8,913 open client cases the previous year. Of these open client cases, 5,090 were new clients, an increase from 4,739 new clients reported the previous year. DOJ’s grantees reported 62 percent of clients served during the reporting period were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, 35 percent were foreign nationals, and the citizenship for two percent was unknown. Grantees reported 62 percent of clients served were victims of sex trafficking, 22 percent were victims of labor trafficking, seven percent were identified as victims of both sex and labor trafficking, and the form of trafficking for nine percent was unknown. In March 2020, DOJ released its FY 2020 funding opportunities, which did not include a restriction on the use of victim assistance funding to represent survivors in vacatur and expungement cases.

During the reporting period, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) postponed a $13.5 million grant program (with funding transferred to HUD by DOJ in FY 2017) for specialized housing and services for survivors of human trafficking. The funding was transferred back to DOJ, which released a new housing funding opportunity in December 2019. In February 2020, the government convened government and civil society experts on legal aid to discuss best practices for providing legal services to victims of human trafficking, including ways to ensure restitution is paid to victims.

HHS awarded $10.9 million in FY 2019 for the provision of case management services to foreign national victims through a nationwide network of NGO sub-recipients, an increase from $7.5 million in FY 2018. Through this program, HHS supported 82 NGOs that served 1,573 individuals, including 968 victims of trafficking and 605 qualified family members in 48 states and U.S. territories, a decrease from 1,612 individuals served from the previous year. HHS’s grantees reported 68 percent of clients served were victims of labor trafficking, 20 percent were victims of sex trafficking, and 12 percent were identified as victims of both sex and labor trafficking. HHS continued to fund the provision of case management services to domestic victims of human trafficking, which served 825 victims of trafficking in 12 states through collaborative partnerships with 169 service providers, a significant decrease from 1,149 individuals served the previous year. HHS’s grantees reported 87 percent of clients served were victims of sex trafficking, two percent were victims of labor trafficking, two percent were identified as victims of both sex and labor trafficking, and the form of trafficking for nine percent was unknown. HHS also provided $2.3 million to address human trafficking in the child welfare system in FY 2019, the same amount as FY 2018. In FY 2019, HHS also provided $7 million in matching funds through title IV-E of the Social Security Act for administrative activities to serve any child or youth in the placement, care, or supervision of a foster care agency who is at risk of becoming a sex trafficking victim, identified as a sex trafficking victim, or missing from foster care, an increase from $6.7 million in FY 2018.

A Certification Letter enables foreign national adult victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons to be eligible to apply for benefits and services to the same extent as refugees when DHS issues Continued Presence or when a victim has a bona fide or approved application for T nonimmigrant status, as described further below. An Eligibility or Interim Assistance Letter enables foreign national children to apply for benefits and services to the same extent as refugees. HHS issues such letters when the Department receives credible information the child is or may be a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons under the TVPA. HHS issued 311 Certification Letters to foreign national adults in FY 2019, representing a significant decrease from 412 in FY 2018, and issued 892 Eligibility Letters to foreign national children in FY 2019, representing a significant increase from 466 in FY 2018. Of the 311 foreign national adult victims certified in FY 2019, 211 were labor trafficking victims, 67 were sex trafficking victims, 22 were victims of both sex and labor trafficking, and 11 cases were unknown. More than half of all adult victims certified in FY 2019 were female. Out of 892 foreign national child victims certified in FY 2019, 614 were labor trafficking victims, 251 were sex trafficking victims, and 27 were victims of both labor and sex trafficking. Slightly more than half of all foreign national child victims were male.

When foreign national children are placed in the care and custody of HHS, they are screened for human trafficking. When appropriate, HHS makes a determination of eligibility for benefits and services, which may include long-term assistance. In FY 2019, HHS assisted 228 foreign national child victims of trafficking, including 69 new enrollments, through its Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program, compared to 199 foreign national child victims of trafficking, including 87 new enrollments in FY 2018. This program requires states to provide such child victims with the same assistance, care, and services available to foster children.

NGOs continued to call for expanded services, including legal services, for unaccompanied foreign national children without lawful immigration status upon their release from HHS care and custody.

Advocates reported a lack of services available for men, boys, LGBTI individuals, and labor trafficking survivors. Advocates also reported a need for increased access to affordable and trauma-informed health care and mental health services, including services available to a victim’s family. NGOs and survivor advocates continued to report insufficient access to housing, including transitional housing and long-term housing options for trafficking victims. Advocates called for more culturally competent and inclusive services, including language access, and increased availability of victim-centered, trauma-informed, and survivor-informed services for trafficking victims. Survivor advocates reported a lack of specialized services for American Indians and Alaska Natives, individuals with disabilities, and the elderly. Advocates also called for improvements to education services, including financial education and resources, job training, and job placement for survivors, as well as increased access to trauma-informed childcare.

DHS provides immigration options specifically for victims of trafficking through Continued Presence, which is a temporary immigration designation, and T nonimmigrant status, which is a temporary immigration benefit commonly referred to as the T visa. Both immigration options strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute human trafficking by encouraging victims to engage and cooperate with law enforcement regardless of their immigration status. To qualify for Continued Presence, an individual must be identified by law enforcement as a victim of human trafficking who may be a potential witness in the investigation or prosecution of the trafficker. To qualify for a T visa, an applicant must demonstrate that they (1) are a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons; (2) are physically present in the United States, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or at a port of entry on account of trafficking; (3) have complied with reasonable requests from law enforcement, unless they are younger than the age of 18 or unable to cooperate due to trauma suffered; and (4) would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm upon removal from the United States. T visa applicants may sponsor certain family members, including certain extended family members who face a present danger of retaliation. T nonimmigrants and their derivative family members are authorized to work and are eligible for certain federal public benefits and services. T nonimmigrant status is granted for a period of four years and may be extended under certain limited circumstances. After three years, or upon the completion of the investigation or prosecution, T nonimmigrants may be eligible to apply for lawful permanent resident status and eventually may be eligible for citizenship. DHS granted T nonimmigrant status to 500 victims in FY 2019, a decrease from 576 victims in FY 2018, and granted T nonimmigrant status to 491 eligible family members of victims in FY 2019, compared to 703 family members in FY 2018. (The FY 2018 number of T nonimmigrant status (576) represents a correction to the number cited last year (580); the FY 2018 number of eligible family members (703) represents a correction to the number cited last year (698).) The processing time for T visas was between 19.5 months to 26.5 months in FY 2019, an increase from 16 months to 23.5 months in FY 2018. In March 2020, DHS announced it would enforce current regulations and form instructions and would reject forms where required fields are left blank or incomplete (and allow applicants to resubmit applications). In July 2019, DOL amended its policy of certifying applications for T visas, which now requires a referral to criminal law enforcement prior to DOL certification.

Advocates again reported increased obstacles to obtaining a T visa. Advocates noted a continuing rise in the number of requests for additional evidence by adjudicators, which tends to increase processing times, and reported increased T visa denials that they believed improperly interpreted relevant statutes and regulations, such as denials based on unlawful acts traffickers compelled victims to commit or narrower interpretations of the physical presence requirement. Some NGOs reported DHS denied T visa applications involving polyvictimization, such as when an application detailed an experience of domestic violence or smuggling in addition to human trafficking. NGOs continued to call for DHS to improve training for adjudicators that includes detailed guidance on current regulations, a trauma-informed approach, and instructions for drafting victim-centered requests for additional evidence developed with input from survivors. Advocates expressed concern with lengthy and increasing T visa processing times, citing added vulnerabilities for survivors who lack legal status or whose time-limited support services expire. NGOs also noted the amended DOL certification policy creates additional barriers to obtaining a T visa and may deter victims from coming forward.

DHS manages all requests from federal, state, and local law enforcement for Continued Presence, authorizing foreign nationals identified by law enforcement as trafficking victims who may be potential witnesses to remain lawfully and work in the United States during the investigation and prosecution of the crime. In FY 2019, DHS issued Continued Presence to 125 trafficking victims, who were potential witnesses, compared to 121 in FY 2018. DHS granted 48 extensions of Continued Presence, compared to 31 in FY 2018. DHS updated its Continued Presence brochure and publicly released Continued Presence training videos to promote consistent messaging that encourages federal, state, and local law enforcement requests and provide clarification that applications should be submitted immediately upon identification of a victim.

Advocates reported continued concern with the low number of Continued Presence requests made by law enforcement and called for enhanced collaboration between DHS and DOJ to prioritize an increase in the number of requests submitted by federal law enforcement working on cases in the field. NGOs also called for targeted training of law enforcement in geographic areas with the lowest numbers of requests and for granting federal victim assistance specialists the authority to request Continued Presence. NGOs reported survivors of sex trafficking were more likely to obtain Continued Presence than survivors of labor trafficking.

DHS issued a new notice of proposed rulemaking in November 2019 that would change its fee waiver determination process for certain immigration applications and petitions, including filings related to the T visa. However, under this rulemaking, applications for T nonimmigrant status would remain fee-exempt, and applicants would still be permitted to seek a fee waiver for related filings if their household income is at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, a change from 150 percent.

In February 2020, DHS implemented a final rule that amended regulations used to determine an applicant’s inadmissibility to the United States based on the likelihood of becoming a public charge (i.e., depending on public resources for basic needs). Applicants for T visas, certain T nonimmigrants seeking to adjust status, petitioners for U visas, and U nonimmigrants seeking to adjust status are exempt from the public charge ground of inadmissibility. To align with this DHS rule, State implemented a similar new rule for applicants of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas outside the United States.

Advocates continued to report an increasing number of foreign national survivors are afraid to report their cases to law enforcement, pursue immigration options, or seek services due to heightened immigration enforcement policies and increased fear of removing victim witnesses from the United States. Advocates called for the reversal of the policy DHS implemented in November 2018 to allow notices to appear to be issued to individuals denied T visas and who are removable upon denial, thus initiating removal proceedings with the immigration court. Advocates further stated the policy undermines the intent of the TVPA to safeguard victims of trafficking. Advocates expressed concern with DHS’s proposed revisions to the fee waiver determination process impeding access to immigration benefits, noting the TVPA permits survivors to apply for a waiver. Advocates also continued to report increased denials of fee waivers for T visa applicants, which placed a heightened financial burden on survivors, and reported increasing requests for greater proof of financial hardship. NGOs called for DHS and State to rescind the new policy revision regarding admissibility on public charge grounds. NGOs reported that, as a result of the rule, survivors are afraid to access public assistance programs to which they are entitled and their clients were withdrawing from or choosing not to enroll in programs.

Another immigration benefit available to certain human trafficking victims is U nonimmigrant status (commonly referred to as the U visa) for victims of certain qualifying crimes, including human trafficking, who are helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the qualifying criminal activity and meet other specific eligibility requirements. While DHS has conducted an analysis on a random sample of U visa petitions, it is unable to accurately track the number of U visas issued based on the specific underlying crimes for which they were issued. In December 2019, pursuant to current regulations and form instructions, DHS implemented new U visa receipt changes that reject any application if required fields in the form are left blank.

NGOs and media reports raised concern with this change, reporting increased obstacles to obtaining U visas.

In FY 2019, a State program reunified 204 family members with identified victims of trafficking in the United States, a significant decrease from 262 in FY 2018. This program assisted one survivor to return home.

The U.S. government continued to provide and fund training to federal, state, local, and tribal officials, as well as to NGO service providers and health and human service providers, to encourage more consistent application of victim-centered and trauma-informed approaches in all phases of victim identification, assistance, recovery, and participation in the criminal justice process. In FY 2019, HHS provided training and technical assistance to more than 25,000 health and human service professionals and expanded its online training program to more than one million health care providers. DOJ’s specialized training and technical assistance providers assisted organizations in strengthening their anti-trafficking responses related to housing, employment, legal services, trauma-informed care, courts, and investigations and prosecutions. DOJ also funded a new initiative in FY 2019 to invest in organizations to build capacity, navigate resources, and strengthen networks to serve victims of all forms of human trafficking.

DHS screens certain individuals for human trafficking, including unaccompanied foreign national children without lawful immigration status and some detained individuals, and, in cases where potential victims were identified, referred cases to law enforcement for further investigation. In the case of foreign national adults apprehended, interdicted, or in detention pending removal from the United States, DHS does not mandate screening of such individuals for trafficking indicators.

Advocates called for DHS to conduct human trafficking screening for foreign national adults and accompanied foreign national children, citing concerns that potential victims who would otherwise be eligible for relief could be removed from the United States. Advocates also reported concerns that trafficking survivors are held in immigration detention, with one NGO identifying at least five victims in detention. One NGO report noted the government removed some individuals with pending applications for trafficking-specific immigration benefits or pending appeals for such benefits. A state government and a group of NGOs each filed a lawsuit challenging the DHS practice of conducting federal immigration arrests in and around state courthouses without judicial warrants, including of human trafficking victims. The lawsuits, as well as an NGO report released during the reporting period, claim the arrests are increasing and have deterred victims from appearing in court or assisting law enforcement in cases, bolstering traffickers’ ability to use the threat of removal from the United States to control victims.

One NGO called for standardized trafficking screening within the judicial and penal system to identify potential victims, especially child victims. Advocates continued to report that survivors with criminal records resulting from unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit often remain excluded from employment, housing, and higher education; are ineligible for government programs; and face difficulties meeting needs essential to their safety and recovery. Advocates also noted the need for better trafficking screening of individuals with disabilities to improve the identification of potential victims.

PREVENTION

The U.S. government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. Federal agencies conducted numerous educational and training activities for their own personnel, state, local, and tribal officials, and other stakeholders. During the reporting period, the president signed an executive order that included the creation of a position within the Executive Office of the President focused on human trafficking and directed the federal government to improve prevalence estimate methodologies and law enforcement coordination. The U.S. Congress added the Department of Commerce to the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF). To enhance transparency and stakeholder input, the PITF reported on agency accomplishments and future efforts and again invited members of the presidentially appointed survivor advisory council to join its meeting.

The government continued public outreach measures on the causes and consequences of human trafficking and continued efforts to increase victim identification among vulnerable populations and sectors and to seek and incorporate survivor input into policies and programs. HHS continued to fund an NGO to operate the national human trafficking hotline. In FY 2019, the hotline received 136,990 calls, texts, chats, online tips, and emails, identified 11,852 potential human trafficking cases, and provided resources and referrals to 3,828 potential victims. The hotline also received information on 4,692 potential traffickers and 1,849 types of businesses facilitating human trafficking. Of the potential human trafficking cases identified, the hotline reported 3,599 potential cases to law enforcement and received information that at least 1,086 investigations were opened as a result. More than 10,300 signals, which includes calls, texts, and web chats, came from individuals who identified themselves as potential victims of trafficking seeking help, with calls being the most common method of communication. The U.S. government operated other tip lines that received calls or messages related to suspected human trafficking cases. U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide continued to provide the “Know Your Rights” pamphlet to applicants for temporary work and exchange visitor visas and play a related video in certain consular waiting rooms in an effort to help visa applicants better understand their rights and raise awareness of human trafficking. In FY 2019, the pamphlet generated 156 signals to the national hotline, a decrease from 294 calls generated in FY 2018.

In 2020, DHS published its first strategy to combat human trafficking, the importation of goods produced with forced labor, and child sexual exploitation. In FY 2019, DHS law enforcement held more than 1,350 training and engagement events, and DHS continued its nationwide human trafficking awareness Blue Campaign, which held 10 training and outreach engagements with NGOs and law enforcement. In FY 2019, HHS supported 93 training and technical assistance activities, compared to 61 in FY 2018, reaching 5,090 training participants. HHS also developed human trafficking prevention resources and training tailored for programs that serve families and at-risk youth. For the third year, HHS continued its leadership academy composed of survivors and anti-trafficking professionals that developed recommendations for improving services focusing on two-generation, whole-family approaches to prevention. The Department of Transportation (DOT) and DHS continued to train aviation personnel and, in FY 2019, formed six new partnerships with airlines and aviation industry organizations for a total of 25 partners. The DOT advisory committee on human trafficking, composed of representatives from transportation sectors, labor associations, NGOs, and law enforcement, submitted its final report with recommendations for DOT and best practices for the state and local departments of transportation, private industry, NGOs, transportation authorities, and other transportation stakeholders. During the reporting period, DOT’s initiative of transportation leaders aligned against human trafficking secured 413 pledges from leaders representing airports and air carriers; urban and rural transit agencies; trucking, bus, and rail companies; ports; state departments of transportation; and modal associations. DOT also launched a new grant award to incentivize the development of innovative solutions that increase human trafficking prevention efforts among transportation stakeholders; awarded more than $430,000 in grants to support state efforts through driver’s license standards and programs; and committed $5.4 million in grants to address public safety, including human trafficking. DOJ released a new public online training series on trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches to human trafficking, and DOJ grantees reported providing training to more than 82,000 anti-trafficking partners and stakeholders. In FY 2019, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) participated in 188 outreach events that addressed human trafficking, reaching more than 11,200 individuals, and continued efforts to increase public awareness about human trafficking with its human trafficking resource guide. The EEOC also conducted 57 training sessions for EEOC staff and the staff of state and local partners on identifying and developing trafficking-related charges of discrimination and trauma-informed investigative techniques. The Department of Education developed a department-wide plan to combat human trafficking, including activities to increase awareness and to promote the prevention of human trafficking in the education community, with special emphasis on the most vulnerable student populations and strategies for successfully reintegrating trafficking survivors. In April 2019, State worked with an NGO to launch a new set of targeted online risk-management tools for food and beverage companies to address forced labor in their global supply chains. Congress made available more than $92 million in FY 2019 foreign assistance resources to State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to support anti-trafficking initiatives in more than 50 countries.

Advocates continued to call for a more comprehensive and proactive approach to address the factors and conditions that increase vulnerabilities, including ensuring government requirements and regulations maintain protections and resources dedicated to reducing vulnerabilities among communities at higher risk for human trafficking, partnering with community-based providers to develop early intervention responses to communities’ needs, and better tailoring education and prevention programs to underserved or at-risk populations.

DOL, DHS, and State screen and approve employers and workers for temporary worker programs to ensure compliance with program requirements, including worker protections. To reduce workers’ vulnerability to exploitation, including human trafficking, the United States bars employers participating in these programs or their agents from seeking or receiving payments from workers for any activities related to obtaining labor certification or employment. These include job placement and recruitment fees, and salary and wage deductions, and requires that the terms of employment be disclosed. DOL seeks to ensure employer compliance through audits and investigations and does not accept temporary labor certification applications if the employer discloses it charges a prohibited fee to the worker.

NGOs reported weak oversight of employment-based and other nonimmigrant visa programs, noting human trafficking cases involving workers in the United States on these programs. Advocates continued to call for enhanced protections for workers in temporary worker programs, including regulatory changes to uncouple employment visas from an employer or sponsor, and to protect individuals in certain temporary worker programs to the same extent as other workers. In addition, advocates continued to call for increased transparency and accountability for temporary worker programs and for agencies to develop a more accessible system to share visa applications and job-related information with workers in real time, including the names of employer petitioners.

In FY 2019, DOL signed bilateral cooperative agreements regarding the H-2 programs with Honduras and Guatemala that requires those countries to begin performing labor recruitment directly or to create and maintain a registered foreign labor recruiter monitoring program. These agreements aim to increase transparency, accountability, and safeguards for temporary workers in the H-2 programs, including protection from labor recruitment practices that heighten workers’ vulnerability to exploitation.

NGOs continued to report formal and informal recruiters, labor contractors, and agents charged workers prohibited fees and noted weak government enforcement of the recruitment fee ban. Advocates called on the government to require employers furnish information regarding the services their foreign labor contractors and subcontractors provide commercially, including the cost of the services and who is responsible for payment. Advocates reported employers commonly and intentionally remain uninformed about the recruitment process to escape culpability for any payment of prohibited fees by workers. With regard to DOL’s certification of U.S.-based farm labor contractors, where U.S. law requires DOL to exclude contractors convicted for certain felonies within the last five years, one NGO stated the statutory screening and eligibility criteria were not sufficient, citing examples of farm labor contractors convicted or sued for labor trafficking violations that remained certified.

Advocates noted the government’s practice of denying visas to applicants who reported paying recruitment fees, combined with the risk of retaliation or blacklisting by employers and recruiters, disincentivized applicants from reporting violations to authorities and allowed unscrupulous employers and recruiters to continue operating without penalty. Advocates called for the government to provide protections for workers who report paying such fees or experience other prohibited employment or recruitment practices.

State continued its oversight of the Exchange Visitor Program (EVP or J-1 visa program), which includes the Summer Work Travel (SWT), Camp Counselor, Intern, and Au Pair programs. State continued to monitor exchange visitors to help safeguard their health, safety, and welfare and to identify and investigate program fraud and abuse. State conducted outreach throughout 2019 to raise program sponsors’ awareness of their administrative oversight and reporting obligations to State with respect to the health, safety, and welfare of exchange visitors. State requires EVP sponsors to provide all exchange visitors with the “Know Your Rights” pamphlet during orientation sessions. State conducted field monitoring across all EVP categories in 2019, visiting 1,529 exchange visitors in 364 sites in 24 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands and enhanced its virtual outreach to SWT exchange visitors. State also supported community outreach efforts in 23 states with significant SWT populations, which included outreach with local host organizations and exchange visitors to raise awareness about human trafficking. State continued to liaise with law enforcement on criminal investigations relating to the EVP.

NGOs continued to report the need for additional steps to reduce the risks of exploitation in the SWT and au pair programs, noting concerns with exorbitant program fees and exploitative work conditions. NGOs called for further reforms of the SWT program to increase protections under U.S. labor and employment laws with oversight by DOL, stricter regulations over the recruitment of participants, and greater transparency about employers and occupations.

In April 2019, in accordance with the TVPA, State suspended the A-3 visa sponsorship privileges afforded to Malawi bilateral mission members because of an unpaid final judgment for approximately $1.1 million rendered by a federal district court in a civil human trafficking case. State continued to administer its domestic worker In-person Registration Program for A-3 and G-5 visa holders employed by foreign mission and international organization personnel, respectively, in the Washington, D.C. area. State expanded the program to the New York metropolitan area and Houston, Texas, and announced the program’s expansion to Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. State launched an In-person Registration Program for domestic workers employed by members of the UN Permanent Mission community and announced the program’s expansion to cover domestic workers employed by UN personnel.

During the reporting period, lawsuits in Colorado, Georgia, Texas, Washington, Maryland, and California remained pending against privately owned and operated detention facilities contracted by DHS. These lawsuits allege the contractors forced immigration detainees to work in violation of the TVPA during their federal immigration detention. DHS is not party to the lawsuits, nor are any of its component agencies.

NGOs stated the government should address the allegations of forced labor in immigration detention facilities.

Civil enforcement of federal laws continued to be a significant component of the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. DOL investigated complaints and conducted targeted civil labor investigations involving workers in industries and sectors known to be vulnerable to labor trafficking. In FY 2019, DOL continued enforcement activities in industries including agriculture, construction, landscaping, hotels, restaurants, seafood, and reforestation. In FY 2019, DOL made or received 20 referrals to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies or task forces regarding allegations of human trafficking, including three cases referred to DOL, six requests for DOL assistance, and nine cases referred to other law enforcement agencies. To enhance DOL field staff’s ability to detect and refer potential human trafficking cases to law enforcement, DOL piloted initiatives to raise awareness of human trafficking through advanced human trafficking training, coordinated enforcement, and participation in local task forces.

NGOs reported a significant reduction in DOL investigations into workplaces due to insufficient resources, which inhibits meaningful or systematic enforcement of labor laws and detection of forced labor in industry supply chains. Survivor advocates called for more resources to be allocated to DOL to enhance efforts to identify labor trafficking cases.

During the reporting period, the EEOC, which enforces federal employment discrimination statutes, continued to investigate charges on behalf of and seek compensation for victims of trafficking. In FY 2019, the EEOC received six new charges of discrimination linked to human trafficking compared to eight in FY 2018. It recovered $56,000 in monetary benefits for charging parties through the administrative process, compared to $244,000 in FY 2018. As of September 30, 2019, the EEOC had six pending charges linked to human trafficking.

Federal law also allows a trafficking victim to independently file a civil cause of action, and there were cases in which individuals filed and successfully pursued civil causes of action during the reporting period.

The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, including by prosecuting individuals for sex trafficking who pay or attempt to pay for commercial sex involving children. In March 2019, DOJ issued departmental guidance on emphasizing that individuals who knowingly patronize or solicit sex trafficking victims are guilty of a federal crime and ordered DOJ components to continue to identify and prosecute individuals involved in sex trafficking. DOJ also provided training on demand reduction for federal prosecutors. DoD, in partnership with local law enforcement, continued to investigate cases of service members allegedly violating DoD’s prohibition on procuring commercial sex.

NGOs continued to call for increased efforts to address the demand for commercial sex in order to address human trafficking comprehensively, including calls for increased education and awareness for potential buyers and efforts to prevent child sex trafficking.

The government proactively investigated allegations of child sexual exploitation offenses perpetrated overseas by U.S. citizens and partnered with foreign law enforcement counterparts to share information regarding international travel of registered child sex offenders. In FY 2019, DHS launched a new center to improve its ability to notify countries of the potential travel of registered child sex offenders. Eleven defendants were convicted of federal child sex tourism charges in FY 2019, compared to three in the previous reporting period. Offenders who abuse children abroad may have been prosecuted under other statutes, and prosecutions based on other statutes are not reflected in this statistic.

DOJ and other federal law enforcement agencies received one allegation of forced labor or recruitment fees required of third-country nationals working on certain U.S. government contracts abroad. There were no federal criminal prosecutions of employers or labor contractors for such violations in connection with U.S. government contracts abroad in FY 2019.

The Office of Management and Budget finalized its guidance on anti-trafficking risk management best practices and mitigation considerations, which enhances the effectiveness of anti-trafficking requirements in federal acquisition and helps contractors manage and reduce the burden associated with meeting these responsibilities. DoD requires its acquisition personnel to take human trafficking training once every three years. In FY 2019, DoD updated its instruction that outlines the anti-trafficking roles and responsibilities for DoD components, services, and agencies. In FY 2019, DoD reported investigating 13 forced labor or related cases, compared to 23 cases in FY 2018, and took action against noncompliant employers or labor contractors from U.S. programs resulting in six non-compliance requests. In addition to the six non-compliance requests, five cases remained pending, one was unsubstantiated, and one was resolved through corrective actions by the company. Where appropriate, DoD refers these cases for criminal investigation or pursues criminal investigations for these cases.

An inspector general report released within the reporting period found DoD officials did not consistently enforce regulations on the identification and oversight of trafficking in persons in Kuwait, and DoD contracting personnel did not always ensure contracts in Kuwait complied with federal acquisition regulations on human trafficking. Upon release of the report, DoD took steps to implement the recommendations to improve enforcement and oversight, including updating a combatant command’s human trafficking regulation.

DHS enforced the law that prohibits the importation of goods mined, produced, or manufactured, wholly or in part, under forced labor conditions, including forced child labor. DHS received 53 allegations and issued six Withhold Release Orders within the reporting period for shipments of goods on grounds they were produced by forced labor, resulting in the detention of more than $15 million in goods, compared to two Withhold Release Orders within the previous reporting period. The government continued to enforce a law that extends this prohibition to any imports produced by North Korean nationals. DOJ continued to engage in extensive interagency consultations to clarify legal and jurisdictional challenges to addressing forced labor in fishing in international waters. The U.S. Congress ratified a trade agreement that requires the parties to prohibit the importation of goods produced by forced labor. DOL announced $27.2 million in new grants to help Mexico meet its labor obligations under the trade agreement, including the enforcement of its labor laws and addressing child labor and forced labor in its supply chains. In October 2019, the United States Trade Representative suspended trade preferences for Thailand based on its failure to protect workers, including from forced labor.

NGOs called for the federal government to enact a supply chains transparency law that would establish a registry of businesses and require disclosure of supply chain statements, among other measures. One NGO called on DHS to issue more guidance for the evidentiary standards it relies upon when issuing Withhold Release Orders to ensure those seeking to bring forward allegations include the necessary information.

In FY 2019, HHS held four regional American Indian and Alaska Native consultation sessions to discuss how to better prevent human trafficking within those communities. HHS also launched online training to educate health care providers serving American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders regarding human trafficking and its impact on their communities. For the second year, HHS provided funding for an NGO-run hotline for American Indians and Alaska Natives affected by domestic and dating violence, as well as human trafficking. In FY 2019, this hotline received 803 calls, chats, and text messages reporting sex trafficking and forced labor. In FY 2019, DOI delivered awareness training to more than 12,000 DOI employees, as well as tribal and state victim and social service providers, tribal council members, and tribal community members. DOI and HHS held a listening session with American Indian and Alaska Native representatives, where topics included human trafficking. HHS developed resources and engaged tribal and Native youth on the impact of human trafficking on indigenous communities and how cultural practices such as storytelling can raise awareness of trafficking. DOJ provided technical assistance funding to increase its grantees’ capacity to respond to sex trafficking, including safety planning for victims, developing interagency cooperation in responding to sex trafficking, and expanding service providers’ understanding of trafficking involving Native women and children. DOJ also trained American Indian and Alaska Native law enforcement to better understand and investigate child sex trafficking cases. DOJ awarded $550,000 to increase services for urban American Indian and Alaska Native victims of sex trafficking.

U.S. INSULAR AREAS

Trafficking in persons occurs in the U.S. insular areas, including American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).

In Guam and CNMI, members of DOJ-led human trafficking task forces continued to engage with community partners to provide victim services, train law enforcement, and share strategies for improving victim identification. DOJ also continued to advance an initiative that enhances coordination with stakeholders in the Pacific Region on victim services, law enforcement responses, training, community outreach, and prevention programs. DOJ and DHS held public awareness events in USVI and continued to participate, along with local authorities in Puerto Rico, in the crimes against children task force. DOJ developed human trafficking training for prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and service providers within USVI.

HHS provides comprehensive case management services to foreign national victims of trafficking in American Samoa, Guam, CNMI, Puerto Rico, and USVI, and two DOJ grantees provided comprehensive and legal services to victims of all forms of trafficking in CNMI during the reporting period. In FY 2019, HHS provided grant-funded training and technical assistance in Guam and CNMI to improve the health and safety outcomes for survivors of human trafficking and intimate partner violence and to promote human trafficking prevention. In FY 2019, DOJ provided training and technical assistance to support the development of multidisciplinary anti-trafficking task forces in Puerto Rico, USVI, and American Samoa. In FY2019, HHS conducted a site visit in Guam and CNMI to better understand the unique challenges and requirements related to combating human trafficking in the region. In response, HHS issued grantee guidance clarifying that certain insular areas are eligible for grant-funded victim assistance programs.

As part of the prosecution statistics previously mentioned, DOJ filed four new human trafficking cases in Puerto Rico and USVI and convicted five defendants in Puerto Rico within the reporting period. Authorities pursued lesser charges in one federal case in USVI that contained elements of human trafficking, including victims being forced to work to repay debts, destruction of travel documents, and physical threats.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign national victims in the United States, and traffickers exploit victims from the United States abroad. Human trafficking cases have been reported in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Traffickers compel victims to engage in commercial sex and to work in both legal and illicit industries and sectors, including in hospitality, traveling sales crews, agriculture, janitorial services, construction, landscaping, restaurants, factories, care for persons with disabilities, salon services, massage parlors, retail, fairs and carnivals, peddling and begging, drug smuggling and distribution, religious institutions, child care, and domestic work. Individuals who entered the United States with and without legal status have been identified as trafficking victims. Victims originate from almost every region of the world; the top three countries of origin of federally identified victims in FY 2019 were the United States, Mexico, and Honduras. Individuals in the United States vulnerable to human trafficking include: children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, including foster care; runaway and homeless youth; unaccompanied foreign national children without lawful immigration status; individuals seeking asylum; American Indians and Alaska Natives, particularly women and girls; individuals with substance use issues; migrant laborers, including undocumented workers and participants in visa programs for temporary workers; foreign national domestic workers in diplomatic households; persons with limited English proficiency; persons with disabilities; LGBTI individuals, and victims of intimate partner violence or domestic violence. Advocates reported a growing recognition of trauma bonding in human trafficking cases, which occurs when a trafficker uses rewards and punishments in cycles of abuse to foster a powerful emotional connection with the victim. Some U.S. citizens engage in child sex tourism in foreign countries.

U.S. Department of State

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