My Turn: Congress must protect human trafficking victims
Last month, Gov. Maggie Hassan signed into law critical human trafficking legislation.
SB 317 was passed unanimously by the New Hampshire Legislature and includes increased penalties against human traffickers and provides additional protections for victims of human trafficking, including children.
The New Hampshire Legislature and Hassan understand the need to protect child victims of this horrific crime. The U.S. House of Representatives, however, rolled back important protections for child victims of human trafficking in the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act as part of the emergency border spending bill.
It is now critical that Congress protect the TVPRA, and therefore unaccompanied immigrant children, when they return in September to take up legislation to continue funding the government.
The House emergency spending bill includes harmful changes to the TVPRA, which is the cornerstone of the U.S. policy response to combat the scourge of human trafficking through punishing the perpetrators and protecting the victims of human trafficking.
As a retired police chief and a veteran policy advocate with more than 25 combined years experience fighting to end human trafficking, we are deeply concerned with the about-face from members of Congress and the administration on our country’s human trafficking policies.
In 2008, demonstrating strong bipartisan support, the bill passed unanimously. Among other important provisions, the law required screening of unaccompanied immigrant children by asking questions to assess if they had been victims of trafficking.
It also required that the children from non-contiguous countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and the Honduras have the opportunity to present their case before an immigration judge. This essential process helps identify victims of human trafficking; without it children such as Sarah will be returned to the arms of their traffickers.
Sarah is from El Salvador.
When she was 15 years old, Sarah was kidnapped by a group of men and sexually abused.
She was forced to have sex with other men. They received payment and sold her for sex and sex slavery. This abuse went on for two years.
At 17, fortunately she was able to escape and made her way to the United States.
She was arrested by immigration at the border. Because she was an unaccompanied (no adult relative) child crossing the border, she was detained and placed into custody.
In detention, she was able to speak to a social worker that identified her as a victim of child sex trafficking.
Pro bono counsel is now helping Sarah get legal protection.
With the proposed changes that some members of Congress and the administration have been seeking, Sarah would have never talked to a social worker.
There would have been no time to identify her as a victim of child sex trafficking because there would have been no procedural protections in place. Instead, she would have been summarily deported in less than 72 hours.
The current crisis on our border requires a comprehensive response that incorporates security and humanitarian best practices.
Our current policies are a product of thoughtful bipartisan legislation and should not be subject to revision or repeal for political expediency. We strongly oppose any attempt to weaken or eliminate the procedural protections provided for in the TVPRA.
These protections simply provide time, space and process. They provide access to trained service providers and an opportunity to be heard by an immigration judge.
Without these critical protections, child victims of sex and labor trafficking will not be identified. Moreover, victims most likely will be returned to the arms of their traffickers and important law enforcement efforts to arrest and prosecute the traffickers will be squandered.
The law members of Congress and the administration seek to modify does not provide a path to legalization or any immigration benefits.
The law simply gives children who are victims of trafficking – like Sarah – a chance to ask for and receive help.
(Cory Smith is a human rights attorney in Concord. Nicholas Sensley, a retired police chief, is CEO and chief solutions officer for Cross Sector Solutions LLC in Lebanon, Tenn.)