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.