The U.S. government decreased efforts to prevent trafficking. In October 2020, the government issued and began to implement a comprehensive three-year national action plan to combat human trafficking. Federal agencies conducted numerous educational and training activities for their own personnel, state, local, and tribal officials, and other stakeholders. To enhance transparency and stakeholder input, the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons reported on agency accomplishments and future efforts and again invited members of the presidentially appointed survivor advisory council, as well as members of the presidentially appointed public-private partnership advisory council, to join its meeting. However, the government did not take sufficient measures to address the factors, government policies, and conditions that increase historically marginalized communities’ risk to human trafficking, such as the exclusion of domestic and agricultural workers from legal worker protections. The government repealed housing regulations meant to correct discriminatory housing practices and past harms, and it rolled back legal protections for LGBTQI+ persons; advocates noted these actions contributed to the systemic marginalization and vulnerability of communities overrepresented among trafficking victims and disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The government again did not increase efforts to prevent human trafficking in its employment-based and other nonimmigrant visa programs or to hold employers and their agents, including labor recruiters, accountable for practices known to lead to human trafficking. In addition, it implemented policies that reduced its ability to oversee and enforce worker protections in these programs, which made it even harder for workers to protect themselves from an abusive employer or to access a healthy and safe workplace during the pandemic because they were forced to continue working or feared losing their job and immigration status.
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 2020, the hotline received 195,100 calls, texts, chats, online tips, and emails, identified 11,193 potential human trafficking cases, and provided 8,701 referrals to potential victims. In response to the pandemic, the hotline transitioned to fully remote operations with no disruption in services. The number of emergency trafficking cases handled by the hotline increased by more than 40 percent in the month following shelter-in-place orders compared to the prior month. More than 13,000 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 visa applicants in multiple languages for temporary work and exchange visitor categories and play a related video in certain consular waiting rooms to help visa applicants better understand their rights and raise awareness of human trafficking. In FY 2020, the pamphlet generated 113 signals to the national hotline, a decrease from 156 calls generated in FY 2019.
In response to an increased risk of encountering traffickers online, DHS partnered with a national NGO to run social media ads directing people to internet safety resources. HHS established a grant program on creating and implementing strategies to deliver prevention education and skills-based training to school communities. For the fourth year, HHS continued its leadership academy composed of survivors and anti-trafficking professionals that developed recommendations for addressing risk factors among migrant families to labor trafficking. The HHS advisory committee on child sex trafficking, composed of trafficking survivors and other subject matter experts, published a report on best practices and recommendations for states. The Department of Education supported human trafficking prevention awareness for schools, including by launching a webpage dedicated to human trafficking; releasing the second edition of its guide for school communities on how to use individualized interventions for students who have experienced human trafficking and suggested steps for reintegrating such students into educational environments; and releasing a brief about integrating school-based prevention and intervention strategies to combat domestic child sex trafficking. The Department of Transportation (DOT) and DHS continued to train aviation personnel and, in FY 2020, formed 27 new partnerships with airlines, airports, and aviation industry organizations for a total of 59 partners. During the reporting period, DOT’s initiative of transportation leaders aligned against human trafficking secured 55 pledges across the transportation sector for a total of 533 partners, with a commitment to train their employees and raise public awareness. DOT also awarded the first annual $50,000 grant to incentivize the development of innovative solutions that increase human trafficking prevention efforts among transportation stakeholders. Domestically, DOJ trained more than 11,000 people through its public online training series on trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches to human trafficking, and DOJ grantees reported providing training to 72,326 anti-trafficking partners and stakeholders. DOJ, DHS, and State, along with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, consulted with six tech companies to develop public service announcements to prevent and respond to online exploitation, including child sex trafficking, during the pandemic. HHS and DOJ held national listening sessions on preventing and responding to child trafficking during the pandemic. In FY 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) participated in 120 outreach events that addressed human trafficking, reaching 12,020 individuals, and continued efforts to increase public awareness about human trafficking with its human trafficking resource guide. DOL launched a labor trafficking awareness campaign that highlighted the effect of the pandemic on risk factors, indicators, and identification challenges. DOL also held a national online dialogue for stakeholders to provide ideas and comments on DOL’s efforts to combat labor trafficking. Treasury held bilateral banking dialogues with foreign partners and financial institutions to discuss financial trends, typologies, and how financial tools can help combat human trafficking. Congress made available $92 million in FY 2020 foreign assistance resources to State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to support international anti-trafficking initiatives in countries in every region of the world.
NGOs noted human trafficking prevention efforts must address the ways systemic exploitation of Black and Brown communities heighten their vulnerability to human trafficking, especially given the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on their health, economic stability, and safety. For instance, workers in domestic and agricultural sectors, performing duties historically performed by people who were enslaved, people who were formerly enslaved, and their descendants, were and remained specifically excluded from legal worker protections under federal law. Their lack of legal protections combined with the heightened isolation, economic uncertainty, and health risks due to COVID-19 has increased their risk of human trafficking. Despite the pandemic exacerbating housing instability for many individuals, which is a vulnerability traffickers often target, the government repealed regulations meant to correct and prevent discriminatory housing practices. In addition, advocates noted the government’s removal of protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by federally funded health and welfare programs, efforts to revise the definition of sex in federal laws to exclude LGBTQI+ persons, and elimination of data collection requirements on LGBTQI+ youth in foster care during the reporting period furthered the LGBTQI+ community’s marginalization and heightened their risk to human trafficking. Advocates continued to call for a more comprehensive and proactive approach to address the factors and conditions that increase vulnerabilities, such as creating economic opportunities to empower communities at higher risk for human trafficking and providing critical support services that human traffickers might otherwise offer.
DOL, DHS, and State screen and approve employers and workers for temporary foreign 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 (whether or not those agents or others in the recruitment chain are in contractual privity with the employer or a recruiter, whether or not located in the United States, and whether or not such agents are governmental or non-governmental entities) from seeking or receiving payments from workers for any activities related to obtaining labor certification or employment. These payments include job placement and recruitment fees, and salary and wage deductions, and the United States 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. State waived interviews for certain first-time H-2 visa applicants to avoid labor shortages in U.S. supply chains due to the pandemic. The interview waivers reduced the government’s ability to verbally ensure applicants know their rights under the program and to detect potential cases of fraud that increase an applicant’s vulnerability to human trafficking. Workers received the “Know Your Rights” pamphlet along with their passport containing an issued visa rather than prior to visa approval. In April 2020, DHS issued a temporary final rule allowing H-2A agricultural employers with the flexibility to immediately hire workers who held H-2A status at the time of the petition and extended workers’ maximum allowable period of stay. DHS issued a similar rule for the H-2B non-agricultural program in May 2020 before a June executive action froze State’s issuance of new H-2B visas.
In September 2020, the U.S. and Guatemalan governments expanded an agreement that required Guatemala to begin performing labor recruitment directly or to create and maintain a registered foreign labor recruiter-monitoring program for the H-2A program to include the H-2B program.
Advocates again reported weak oversight of employment-based and other nonimmigrant visa programs and documented human trafficking cases involving workers in the United States on these programs. From April 1 to September 30, 2020, the number of cases reported to the national human trafficking hotline involving a potential victim in H-2A status more than doubled compared to the previous six months. 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. NGOs 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. NGOs noted concern that the DHS temporary final rules regarding the H-2 programs exacerbate workers’ vulnerability to exploitation, including human trafficking, by granting employers more control over workers’ employment situation. NGOs and news outlets reported employers using threats of job loss, blacklisting, and deportation if workers left the worksite or housing facility to receive testing or medical treatment for COVID-19, despite the high rates of infection in the food and agricultural sectors. One NGO expressed concern with State’s policy to waive interviews for certain first-time H-2 visa applicants because such interviews provided a critical layer of review for fraud concerns and allowed State to confirm workers understood their rights.
Formal and informal recruiters, labor contractors, and agents continued to charge workers prohibited fees, and the government’s enforcement of the ban on worker-paid recruitment fees and other prohibited practices meant to prevent workers from experiencing situations of heightened risk to human trafficking remained weak. H-2A employers increasingly relied on labor contractors to shield themselves from liability for any violations, including by intentionally remaining uninformed about the recruitment process and the treatment or conditions of workers outside of work hours, including housing conditions and wage payments. In August 2020, H-2A workers filed a class action lawsuit against a farm labor contractor alleging illegal wage deductions, underpayment of wages in violation of written contracts and the Fair Labor Standards Act, worker-paid recruitment fees, and threats of blacklisting and deportation. As of the close of the reporting period, the farm labor contractor continued to hold a farm labor contractor certification of registration under the Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act.
Advocates called on the government to increase enforcement of H-2 program requirements and hold accountable employers and their agents who have exploited workers and violated visa program regulations. They also recommended the government create a public registry of certified labor recruiters and implement a policy that incentivizes workers to report experiencing prohibited employment or recruitment practices, instead of denying them a visa.
State continued its oversight of the Exchange Visitor Program (EVP, commonly referred to as the “J-1 visa”), which includes among others the Summer Work Travel, 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, and it enhanced its virtual monitoring capabilities. State conducted outreach throughout 2020 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 continued to liaise and collaborate with law enforcement on criminal investigations relating to the EVP in 2020.
Advocates continued to report the need for additional steps to reduce the risks of exploitation in some EVP categories, noting concerns with fraudulent recruitment practices, exorbitant program fees, and exploitative work conditions. A news report featuring interviews with former and current EVP au pairs detailed a lack of oversight of sponsors and families, including insufficient corrective action and frequent sponsor non-compliance with the program’s reporting requirements. In June 2020, two former EVP au pairs sued their former sponsor agency and host family, claiming the family subjected them to forced labor. State is not party to the lawsuit. Two groups of international students each separately sued an EVP student intern program sponsor alleging forced labor, among other offenses. Advocates called for increased protections for EVP exchange visitors under U.S. labor and employment laws with oversight by DOL, more accountability of sponsors and participating employers, and greater transparency about employers and occupations.
State and the U.S. Mission to the UN continued to implement their respective domestic worker In-person Registration Programs for A-3 and G-5 visa holders employed by foreign mission and international organization personnel in the United States. Due to the pandemic, the programs temporarily transitioned to phone and video registrations. During the reporting period, State found the continued presence in the United States of an international organization employee to be “undesirable” pursuant to the law, such that if she did not depart the United States by a certain date she would no longer be entitled to the benefits accorded to employees of designated international organizations under U.S. law, including the immigration benefit of G nonimmigrant status. This was following an investigation into allegations including submission of a fraudulent labor contract and participation in a scheme to underpay and overwork a domestic worker in violation of contract terms. State also asked a foreign government to waive immunity of a foreign mission member following an investigation into allegations including fraud in foreign labor contracting and collection of data. State subsequently required the departure of the foreign mission member from the United States.
During the reporting period, lawsuits in Colorado, Georgia, Texas, 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. In January 2021, a U.S. court of appeals ruled in one of these cases the TVPA applies to immigration detention facilities.
Advocates asserted that immigration detainee labor and convict labor perpetuate slavery and its legacy of racial injustice. They called for the government to end its use of labor in immigrant detention facilities, whether government-operated or operated through contracts with private entities, as these immigration detainees have not been convicted of a crime. They also called for the government to amend the U.S. Constitution to eliminate the exception to the Thirteenth Amendment that allows for slavery or involuntary servitude as punishment for those convicted of a crime. NGOs and media reported prisons and detention facilities threatened inmates or detainees with disciplinary action if they refused to work due to COVID-19.
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. Where appropriate, DOL refers these cases for criminal investigation. In FY 2020, DOL continued such enforcement activities in industries including agriculture, landscaping, hospitality, seafood processing, and reforestation. In FY 2020, DOL made 14 referrals to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies or task forces and referred six H visa cases to DOL’s inspector general regarding allegations of human trafficking. Additionally, one criminal law enforcement agency referred a case to DOL, four criminal agencies requested DOL assistance, and 10 such agencies requested DOL’s case file information. The EEOC enforces federal employment discrimination statutes, and it continued to investigate civil charges on behalf of and seek compensation for victims of trafficking during the reporting period. In FY 2020, the EEOC received three new charges of discrimination linked to human trafficking compared to six in FY 2019. For the one charge of discrimination the EEOC resolved in FY 2020, the EEOC did not recover monetary relief, compared to $56,000 in monetary benefits it recovered in resolution of charges in FY 2019. In August 2020, the EEOC settled a lawsuit with national origin and race claims against U.S.-based employers in Washington who hired Thai farm workers through a farm labor contractor. In 2016, a federal court entered a default judgment against the farm labor contractor and ordered damages to the workers who were subjected to “an unrelenting sense of imprisonment.” The settlement with the farms provided for $325,000 to be distributed among 105 workers and required the employers, who had denied liability for the farm labor contractors’ actions, to institute accountability measures over their contractors, training, review of policies and procedures, and reporting of violations. As of September 30, 2020, the EEOC had 13 pending charges linked to human trafficking.
NGOs stated DOL’s investigative divisions continued to be significantly underfunded and its work to protect workers underprioritized, which inhibit meaningful or systematic enforcement of labor laws and detection of forced labor in industry supply chains. One NGO report released in December 2020 found more than 70 percent of farm investigations conducted by DOL uncovered violations, but there was only a one percent chance a farm would be investigated by DOL. NGOs continued to call for more resources to be allocated to DOL to enhance efforts to identify labor trafficking cases.
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 May 2020, the government established an ad hoc working group to examine the role of demand reduction in preventing human trafficking. The working group held a listening session with survivors in December 2020. The government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomats.
Advocates called for greater efforts to address demand, including increased education and awareness, and called for these efforts to encompass sex trafficking and labor trafficking. One NGO called for DOJ to increase efforts to pursue the prosecution of those who knowingly purchase a commercial sex act with a trafficking victim, as well as financial penalties and mandatory restitution.
The government made efforts to reduce the demand for participation in extraterritorial sexual exploitation and abuse (commonly referred to as “international sex tourism”) by its citizens, including by proactively investigating allegations of child sexual exploitation crimes perpetrated overseas by U.S. citizens and partnering with foreign law enforcement counterparts to share information regarding international travel of registered child sex offenders. At least three defendants were convicted federally in FY 2020 of engaging in extraterritorial child sexual exploitation and abuse, compared to 11 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 zero allegations of forced labor or recruitment fees required of third-country nationals working on certain U.S. government contracts abroad. DOJ initiated zero federal criminal prosecutions of employers or labor contractors for such violations in connection with U.S. government contracts abroad in FY 2020 and zero prosecutions for fraud in foreign labor contracting.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) notified agencies’ procurement offices three times of specific concerns regarding human trafficking risks in certain supply chains. Additionally, OMB held one call to coordinate efforts and share ideas among designated procurement officials for how to better protect agencies’ supply chains from being connected to human trafficking. Despite a 2019 directive for certain agencies to designate these points of contact, not all had done so by the end of the reporting period. In FY 2020, 1,050 federal employees completed human trafficking training for the acquisition workforce. As stated in the Prosecution section above, in FY 2020, DoD reported investigating 112 cases related to forced labor, compared to 13 cases in FY 2019. DoD took action against noncompliant employers and labor contractors resulting in one corrective action report, 50 local corrective actions, 48 other actions (including assisting DoD commands to achieve resolution), and DoD took no action in 13 cases. Where appropriate, DoD refers these cases for criminal investigation or pursues criminal investigations. DoD delivered anti-trafficking messaging and materials to more than 2,500 foreign workers, who had worked on U.S. bases in Afghanistan and were departing the country due to the drawdown, and interviewed more than 1,400 such workers to ensure they did not experience human trafficking on the base. DHS debarred one entity and two individuals convicted of engaging in human trafficking from conducting business with the federal government.
The government increased efforts to prevent human trafficking in U.S. private sector supply chains. DHS continued to enforce the law that prohibits the importation of goods mined, produced, or manufactured, wholly or in part, under forced labor conditions, including forced child labor. In accordance with law, the government established a task force to monitor enforcement of this law. DHS received 50 allegations and issued 16 Withhold Release Orders within the reporting period for shipments of goods where information reasonably indicated that merchandise within the purview of Title 19 U.S. Code section 1307 is being, or is likely to be, imported into the United States, resulting in the detention of 606 shipments worth approximately $90 million, compared to 53 allegations and six Withhold Release Orders within the previous reporting period. DHS collected $575,000 in civil penalties for violations of U.S. trade law regarding goods produced with forced labor. The new DHS center for countering human trafficking supported and coordinated the initiation of five criminal investigations of individuals and entities that may be benefitting from goods produced using forced labor overseas, including those importing high-demand goods due to the pandemic.
The government took a series of measures to prevent U.S. businesses and consumers from interacting with or purchasing from entities engaged in forced labor and other human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and beyond, including issuing a business advisory, imposing export controls, and issuing sanctions against officials and entities. The U.S. government, led by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, engaged with the governments of Canada and Mexico to ensure implementation of a provision in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that entered into force in July 2020 requiring all three countries to prohibit the importation of goods produced wholly or in part with forced labor. DOJ convened an interagency task force that, after consulting external stakeholders, submitted to Congress a report that examined the United States government’s legal and regulatory authorities to address forced labor in fishing in international waters and the legal and jurisdictional challenges preventing it from acting effectively, and made recommendations to address gaps in the government’s legal and regulatory framework. DOL updated and added more than 50 examples of promising practices to its mobile application that provides companies and industry groups with guidance on how to identify risks of forced and child labor in their supply chains and mitigate or remediate abuses.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended DHS better communicate to stakeholders the types of information that could help with forced labor cases related to seafood and other goods, as appropriate. GAO also recommended DHS better communicate information about its modification and revocation process for Withhold Release Orders. NGOs urged DHS to increase enforcement of its prohibition on the importation of goods produced with forced labor, work with DOJ to prosecute violators, and increase transparency of its processes so NGOs and unions can monitor workers’ conditions. NGOs recommended OMB issue guidance requiring agencies to conduct risk assessments to identify contracts providing goods from high-risk regions or sectors and recommended greater transparency of agencies’ implementation of the federal acquisition regulation on human trafficking.
DOJ published an issue of its journal on federal law and practice dedicated to the topics of missing or murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives, which included discussions on identifying and preventing human trafficking. As part of the task force’s work, HHS’s operating division released a framework for missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives in October 2020 to guide its programs for those communities. In FY 2020, HHS funded a new grant program in six locations to strengthen the response to victims of human trafficking in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Survivors and anti-trafficking professionals who identify as Native American comprised HHS’s fifth class of its leadership academy, which developed recommendations for using cultural practices and traditions to prevent human trafficking among Native youth. HHS continued to offer online training to educate health care providers serving American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders regarding human trafficking and its effect on their communities, and 605 people completed the course during the reporting period. In FY 2020, HHS funded a new demonstration grant program to provide comprehensive case management services for indigenous survivors of human trafficking in Alaska, Hawaii, Minnesota, North Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin. DOJ awarded more than $39 million to tribal governments under its program to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking, and stalking.
Advocates from indigenous communities and NGOs highlighted the vulnerabilities created by systemic oppression, continued underfunding, and historical trauma that have led to significant rates of human trafficking among their communities. They recommended increased data collection and monitoring, trauma-informed cultural humility training for law enforcement and service providers, and more culturally appropriate and community-specific support and early intervention services.
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 Puerto Rico, DOJ created a working group composed of federal and state law enforcement agencies, NGOs, and higher learning institutions to assess the threat of and propose measures to protect women against violence, including human trafficking. 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 continued to participate, along with local authorities in Puerto Rico, in the crimes against children task force. To increase capacity for DHS to connect victims in Puerto Rico and USVI involved in investigations with appropriate services, DHS identified anti-trafficking NGOs in the continental United States willing to accept victims identified in these territories. In addition, DHS provided training on trauma-informed and victim-centered investigations for its San Juan field office.
HHS provided comprehensive case management services to foreign national victims of trafficking identified 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. HHS provided technical assistance on human trafficking to government and non-government stakeholders in Guam, with virtual participation including NGOs from other Pacific Island and Micronesian communities.
As part of the prosecution statistics previously mentioned, DOJ filed one new human trafficking case in CNMI within the reporting period. Authorities pursued related non-trafficking charges in one federal case in CNMI that involved elements of human trafficking, including victims forced to work to repay debts incurred from recruitment fees, withholding of wages, forced overtime, confiscation of travel documents, verbal abuse, and threats of deportation and physical harm, in addition to other criminal and civil actions related to the labor scheme during prior reporting periods.