June 20, 2019
2019 Trafficking in Persons Report – The United States
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 convictions; increasing the amount of funding for victim services and number of victims served; continuing to seek and incorporate survivor input on human trafficking programs and policies; and launching new public outreach measures to more sectors. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it opened, charged, and prosecuted fewer cases, issued fewer victims trafficking-specific immigration options, and granted fewer foreign national victims of trafficking eligibility to access benefits and services. Anti-trafficking advocates reported a lack of sustained effort to address labor trafficking and to strengthen oversight of employment-based and other nonimmigrant visa programs, and continued to report that victim services were not always provided equitably.
Increase investigation and prosecution of labor trafficking cases. Increase the number of requests by federal law enforcement officials for Continued Presence and conduct targeted training to ensure such officials apply for Continued Presence timely and in all appropriate circumstances. Shorten processing times and improve training for adjudicators to reduce obstacles for victims to appropriately obtain trafficking-related immigration benefits. Proactively identify potential trafficking victims among populations vulnerable to human trafficking. Increase the number of trafficking investigations and prosecutions. Seek to ensure immigration enforcement does not hinder human trafficking criminal law enforcement or victim protections. Increase equitable access to comprehensive victim services across the country and improve access to short-term and/or transitional housing for all victims. Encourage state, local, and tribal authorities to implement policies not to prosecute victims for the unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. Remove the restriction on victim assistance funding for legal representation in vacatur and expungement cases for the unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. Mitigate vulnerabilities in employment-based or other nonimmigrant visa programs in the United States, including by increasing oversight of labor recruiters to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local regulations. Increase training of prosecutors and judges on mandatory forfeiture and restitution for trafficking victims. Increase survivor engagement, including by more systematically incorporating survivor input when forming policies, programs, and trainings. Increase prevention efforts, including through outreach to and intervention services for marginalized communities. Strengthen efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex and labor trafficking. 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.
The government’s prosecution efforts were mixed. The government increased the number of convictions, but the number of investigations and prosecutions 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. During the reporting period, the U.S. Congress passed several laws that address human trafficking and related crimes, including laws amending and reauthorizing the TVPA and a law creating additional grounds for civil action against and expanding criminal liability of websites and technology platforms that intentionally promote or facilitate prostitution, with aggravated penalties for cases in which the defendant recklessly disregards that the conduct contributes to sex trafficking.
Advocates called for adoption of federal vacatur legislation. Regarding the new legislation addressing civil and criminal liability of websites and technology platforms, some advocates supported the law’s expanding civil cause of action for survivors and state governments and expanding criminal liability of such platforms by removing prior legal exemptions. Other advocates, however, reported concerns that the legislation increased vulnerabilities to sex trafficking for individuals engaged in commercial sex, citing a greater reliance on predatory third parties by such individuals.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Department of State (DOS) are the primary investigating agencies for federal trafficking offenses, with federal human trafficking cases prosecuted by DOJ. DOJ, DHS, and DOS also support victims by engaging law enforcement victim assistance specialists during trafficking investigations and prosecutions, including by connecting identified victims to victim service providers. DHS expanded by 70 percent the number of victim assistance specialists and forensic interview specialists working alongside human trafficking investigators nationwide. 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. In addition, DOJ provided $23.1 million in FY 2018 to 17 state and local law enforcement agencies and 17 victim service providers that make up 17 Enhanced Collaborative Model (ECM) anti-trafficking task forces in partnership with other federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement entities and community partners. This represents a significant increase from $2.8 million for two ECM task forces funded in FY 2017. 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.
The federal government reports its law enforcement data by fiscal year. In FY 2018, DHS opened 849 investigations related to human trafficking compared to 833 in FY 2017. DOJ formally opened 657 human trafficking investigations, a significant decrease from 783 in FY 2017. (The FY 2017 number from DOJ ((783)) represents a correction to the number cited last year ((782)).) DOS reported opening 148 human trafficking-related cases worldwide during FY 2018, a decrease from 169 in FY 2017. The Department of Defense (DoD) reported investigating two human trafficking cases involving U.S. military personnel compared to one in FY 2017. (The FY 2017 number from DoD ((one)) represents a correction to the number cited last year ((11)).)
DOJ initiated a total of 230 federal human trafficking prosecutions in FY 2018, a significant decrease from 282 in FY 2017, and charged 386 defendants, a significant decrease from 553 in FY 2017. Of these prosecutions, 213 involved predominantly sex trafficking and 17 involved predominantly labor trafficking, compared to 266 and 16 in FY 2017, respectively. At least one of these cases involved both.
During FY 2018, DOJ secured convictions against 526 traffickers, an increase from 499 convictions in FY 2017. Of these, 501 involved predominantly sex trafficking and 25 involved predominantly labor trafficking, compared to 471 and 28 in FY 2017, 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. Sentences ranged from three months’ to life imprisonment, with more than 70 percent of cases exceeding sentences of five years.
DOJ, DHS, and other enforcement partners initiated interagency efforts to identify, analyze, and address factors contributing to decreases in trafficking prosecutions. Besides outreach to NGOs, these efforts included updated training for law enforcement officers and prosecutors to increase victim identification capabilities and enhance access by victims to legal protections that support their cooperation as witnesses in investigations and prosecutions. DOJ and DHS also held a listening session with NGOs in response to concerns raised about reduced access to protections for foreign national trafficking victims.
DOJ and DHS continued to partner with Mexican law enforcement counterparts to dismantle human trafficking networks operating across the U.S.-Mexico border by exchanging leads, intelligence, and case-based mentoring. DOJ seized and shut down a major online advertiser that facilitated sex trafficking. DOJ established a working group on mandatory restitution in June 2018 and developed training materials for U.S. attorneys, including information about requesting transfers of forfeited assets for victim compensation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, a component of DOJ, moved into one new section the units that investigate human trafficking, including sex trafficking cases involving adult victims and all labor trafficking cases, violent crimes against children, and other violent crimes. DHS scaled up border security and immigration enforcement activities consistent with Executive Order 13773 on enforcing federal law with respect to transnational criminal organizations and preventing international trafficking. 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. Treasury collaborated with DHS on developing leads that helped law enforcement take actions against human traffickers. Treasury also has sanctions authorities, which it could use to target the finances of international human traffickers worldwide. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) inspectors general, in partnership with law enforcement, piloted an initiative to find children missing from foster care, including those at risk for human trafficking.
Advocates called for federal prosecutors to seek, and for courts to award, mandatory restitution for both sex and labor trafficking cases, citing concerns about the low number of cases in which it was ordered. While one NGO noted the number of defendants convicted of a crime that triggered mandatory restitution ordered to pay restitution increased from 24.5 percent in 2017 to 40.1 percent in 2018, this same NGO reported that federal courts did not order mandatory restitution for the majority of convicted defendants. Advocates also called for increased training of prosecutors and judges on mandatory restitution and noted that victim witnesses lack independent legal counsel to assist in obtaining restitution on their behalf.
Advocates reported that very few labor trafficking cases referred to law enforcement were investigated, and called for increased efforts to identify, investigate, and prosecute labor trafficking 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, 44 states had laws allowing survivors to seek a court order vacating, expunging, or sealing criminal convictions entered against them that resulted from their trafficking situation, and at least 34 states had “safe harbor” laws, which are meant to prevent child sex trafficking victims from being prosecuted for commercial sex.
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. Survivor advocates noted authorities disproportionately penalized child sex trafficking victims from communities of color for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit and also reported concern with the lack of victim identification and services available for such penalized survivors, including within the foster care system.
Advocates reported concerns with the limited degree of relief available under some state vacatur laws for trafficking victims with criminal records, noting four states where relief only applied to child trafficking victims. One NGO report found that some states imposed substantive criteria or procedural requirements that created an undue burden in terms of time, financial expense, and difficulty required for survivors to successfully vacate their criminal convictions. Advocates called on states to strengthen existing vacatur and expungement laws, collect data on the use of such laws, and provide additional resources to conduct targeted outreach to survivors.
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 2017 collected from participating jurisdictions are publicly available. State participation reached approximately 78 percent of U.S. states. In 2017, participating jurisdictions reported a total of 545 human trafficking offenses resulting in arrest or solved for crime reporting purposes, a decrease from 654 in 2016. 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. A U.S. military police officer who exploited victims’ opioid addictions was convicted of sex trafficking. A U.S. naval officer was charged with sex trafficking. A municipal law enforcement officer pled guilty to a charge of sex trafficking involving a 14-year-old.
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 and DHS conducted training on indicators of human trafficking and the victim-centered approach to investigations, and provided training on best practices in investigating human trafficking cases. DHS provided human trafficking training to more than 95 law enforcement agencies at its federal training center and to foreign law enforcement, prosecutors, and victim service providers from 53 countries. DHS also updated and relaunched its advanced investigators training, which included a focus on investigating forced labor cases. The Department of the Interior (DOI) provided training to federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers; tribal leaders and community members; and service providers on human trafficking in Indian Country. DOS trained its agents and analysts who investigate and support human trafficking cases to identify networks and engage with survivors using a victim-centered approach. Some federal agencies engaged with survivors to incorporate their input in the development of victim-centered training for law enforcement and prosecutors.
The U.S. government’s protection efforts were mixed. While the government increased funding for victim assistance for trafficking victims from the previous year, it decreased the number of trafficking-specific immigration options issued to victims, including T nonimmigrant status and Continued Presence, and granted fewer Certification and Eligibility Letters providing access to benefits and services to foreign national victims of trafficking. The government did not publicly release the FY 2017 status report for its strategic action plan on victim services.
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 for foreign national victims to be eligible 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 2018, DOJ provided $31.2 million for 45 victim service providers offering comprehensive and specialized services across the United States. This represents a significant increase from 18 providers receiving $16.2 million in FY 2017. DOJ also provided $2.7 million for training and technical assistance to help service providers and court stakeholders meet the needs of survivors. DOJ provided $1.2 million in new funding to increase the availability of trauma-informed services and address barriers to assisting labor trafficking victims. DOJ provided $1.8 million to support mentoring and comprehensive victim services for domestic victims of child sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation compared to $1.9 million in FY 2017. From July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, DOJ grantees providing victim services reported 8,913 open trafficking client cases, including 4,739 new clients, an increase from 8,003 open client cases and 4,349 new clients reported the previous year and a respective 5,655 and 3,195 the year before that. DOJ’s grantees reported that 72 percent of clients served during the reporting period were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents and 28 percent were foreign nationals. Grantees reported that 66 percent of clients served were victims of sex trafficking, 20 percent were victims of labor trafficking, 5 percent were identified as victims of both sex and labor trafficking, and the form of trafficking for 9 percent was unknown. During the reporting period, DOJ issued a new policy that prohibited FY 2018 victim assistance funding from being used to represent survivors in vacatur and expungement cases.
NGOs and survivor advocates called for DOJ to reverse this policy, expressing significant concern because survivors with criminal records often face barriers to employment, housing, financial aid for higher education, and other needs essential to their safety and recovery.
HHS awarded $7.5 million in FY 2018 for the provision of case management services to foreign national victims through a nationwide network of NGO sub-recipients, an increase from $6.6 million in FY 2017. Through this program, HHS supported 98 NGOs that served 1,612 victims of trafficking and qualified family members in 48 states and U.S. territories, an increase from 1,531 individuals served from the previous year. In FY 2018, HHS awarded $3.2 million compared to $3.4 million in FY 2017, for the provision of case management services to domestic victims of human trafficking in 12 states, which served 1,149 victims of trafficking through collaborative partnerships with 175 service providers, an increase from 636 individuals served the previous year. HHS also provided $2.3 million to address human trafficking in the child welfare system in FY 2018, the same amount as the previous year.
A Certification Letter enables foreign national adult victims to be eligible to apply for federal and state benefits and services to the same extent as refugees when Continued Presence is granted 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 allows eligibility for federally funded benefits and services to the same extent as refugees when credible information indicates a foreign national child is or may be a victim of trafficking. HHS issued 412 Certification Letters to foreign national adults in FY 2018, representing a decrease from 448 in FY 2017, and issued 466 Eligibility Letters to foreign national children in FY 2018, a decrease from 507 in FY 2017. (The FY 2017 figures ((448 and 507, respectively)) represent corrections to the numbers cited last year ((466 and 509, respectively)).) Of the 412 foreign national adult victims certified in FY 2018, 69 percent were labor trafficking victims, 22 percent were sex trafficking victims, and 8 percent were victims of both sex and labor trafficking. More than half of all adult victims certified in FY 2018 were female. Out of 466 foreign national minor victims certified in FY 2018, 67 percent were labor trafficking victims, 27 percent were sex trafficking victims, and 6 percent were victims of both labor and sex trafficking. Slightly more than half of all foreign national minor victims were male.
During the year, HHS child protection specialists continued to provide training and technical assistance to identify foreign national child trafficking victims. When 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. HHS assisted 87 new foreign national child victims of trafficking through its Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program in FY 2018, but the total number of victims served was not available. In FY 2017, the program served 139 victims total. (The FY 2017 number ((139)) represents a correction to the number cited last year ((141)).) This program requires states to provide such child victims with the same assistance, care, and services available to foster children.
NGOs called for expanded services for unaccompanied foreign national children without lawful immigration status upon their release from HHS care and custody.
NGOs and survivor advocates continued to express concern that despite federally funded programs to provide comprehensive services for all victims of trafficking, comprehensive services were not always provided. Specifically, advocates reported a significant lack of services available for men, boys, and LGBTI individuals and noted continued concern that some federal funding opportunities no longer highlight the need for services for LGBTI individuals. NGOs and survivor advocates continued to report insufficient access to emergency shelter, transitional housing, and long-term housing options for trafficking victims. Advocates called for more culturally appropriate services and increased availability of victim-centered, trauma-informed, and survivor-informed services for trafficking victims. Advocates also continued to call for improvements to education, job training, and job placement for survivors.
DHS provides trafficking-specific immigration options 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 come forward. 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, applicants must demonstrate that they (1) are victims 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 because of trafficking; (3) have cooperated 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 580 victims in FY 2018, a significant decrease from 672 victims in FY 2017, and granted T nonimmigrant status to 698 eligible family members of victims in FY 2018 compared to 690 family members in FY 2017. The processing time for T visas was between 16 months to 23.5 months in FY 2018.
NGOs continued to report increased obstacles to obtaining a T visa, noting a continuing rise in the number of requests for additional evidence by adjudicators, including requests that referred to outdated regulations. NGOs also 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. NGOs called for improved training for adjudicators that includes detailed guidance on current regulations and a trauma-informed approach. NGOs also expressed concern with lengthy T visa processing times, citing increased vulnerabilities for survivors who lack legal status or whose time-limited support services expire.
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 2018, DHS issued Continued Presence to 121 trafficking victims, who were potential witnesses, a significant decrease from 160 in FY 2017. This is the first full reporting period in which DHS had the authority to grant Continued Presence for two years and extensions for up to two years, which accounts for the 31 such extensions granted in FY 2018 compared to 113 extensions in FY 2017. DHS launched a Continued Presence training video to promote consistent messaging that encourages federal, state, and local law enforcement requests.
Advocates reported 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 reported delays in processing requests for Continued Presence and continued to call for law enforcement to request Continued Presence expeditiously pursuant to DHS policy. 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.
Based on an executive order, DHS updated its policy on issuing notices to appear (NTAs) to applicants and petitioners who are removable upon denial of an immigration benefit. An NTA is an administrative document that, when filed with the immigration court, initiates removal proceedings for foreign nationals. As of November 2018, DHS may issue NTAs following the denial of a T visa or denied adjustment of status from a T visa to permanent resident status, and who are unlawfully present at that time of denial. Under this policy guidance, officers retain the discretion, on a case-by-case basis, to recommend the exercise of prosecutorial discretion to not issue an NTA if the officer determines there is appropriate evidence to warrant such an action.
DHS also published a proposed revision to its fee waiver determination process for certain immigration applications and petitions, including filings related to the T visa, whereby individuals seeking fee waivers will no longer be able to qualify solely with proof of receipt of a means-tested benefit. They are still permitted, however, to apply based on significant financial hardship or with proof of income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.
DHS also issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to change current 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. At the close of the reporting period, DHS was evaluating public comments regarding whether this inadmissibility ground would apply to T nonimmigrants seeking lawful permanent resident status.
Advocates reported 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, which have resulted in increased fear of deporting or removing victim witnesses. Advocates called for DHS to exempt individuals denied T visas from being referred to immigration courts for removal proceedings. Advocates noted the updated policy appeared to increase the risk for survivors who cooperated with law enforcement against their traffickers, including the risk that they would face retribution in their home country, if deported. NGOs also reported increased denials of fee waivers for T visa applicants, which placed a heightened financial burden on survivors, citing cases in which detained and homeless survivors as well as an unaccompanied foreign national child without lawful immigration status were denied fee waivers. NGOs 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 called for DHS to withdraw its proposed public charge rule, reporting that, because of the proposed rule, survivors are afraid to access public assistance programs to which they are entitled. NGOs further noted the TVPA exempts survivors from the public charge rule.
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. DHS is unable to accurately delineate the number of U visas issued based on the specific underlying crimes for which they were issued.
In FY 2018, a DOS program reunified 262 family members with identified victims of trafficking in the United States, compared with 272 in FY 2017. 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. DHS adjudicators receive specific training on the adjudication of humanitarian applications and petitions.
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 adult foreign nationals apprehended, interdicted, or in detention pending deportation, DHS does not mandate screening of such individuals for trafficking indicators.
Advocates continued to report immigration officials detained a small number of individuals with pending applications for trafficking-specific immigration benefits. One NGO called for standardized trafficking screening within the judicial and penal system to identify potential victims, especially minor victims, and called on the government to better identify and address the needs of domestic victims of child sex trafficking.
The U.S. government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. Federal agencies conducted numerous educational and training activities for their own personnel, state, local, and tribal officials, and other stakeholders. The President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons included the presidentially-appointed survivor advisory council in its meeting and reported on agency accomplishments and future efforts.
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 awarded $1.75 million to an NGO to operate the national human trafficking hotline. In FY 2018, the hotline received 116,940 calls, texts, chats, online tips, and emails, identified 10,658 potential human trafficking cases, and provided resources and referrals to 9,365 potential victims. The hotline also received information on more than 5,600 potential traffickers and more than 42 types of businesses facilitating human trafficking. Of the potential human trafficking cases identified, the hotline reported 3,434 cases to law enforcement and received information that at least 1,009 investigations were opened as a result. More than 6,000 individuals identified themselves through calls, texts, or web chats as potential victims of trafficking seeking help, with texting being the most common method of communication. HHS awarded $2 million in FY 2018 for the identification and referral of domestic and foreign national victims of human trafficking for services in 10 communities, identifying 558 victims of trafficking. 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 in an effort to help visa applicants better understand their rights and raise awareness of human trafficking. DOS updated the related “Know Your Rights” video with input from survivors so that it would more effectively reach its target audience. In FY 2018, the pamphlet generated 294 calls to the national hotline, a significant decline from 714 calls generated in FY 2017.
In 2018, DHS held more than 1,300 training and engagement events with NGOs and law enforcement. DHS continued its nationwide human trafficking awareness Blue Campaign and incorporated input from trafficking survivors and other partners to develop new educational awareness products, including toolkits for the transportation sector and faith-based communities. Under the law, HHS established a national advisory committee composed of trafficking survivors and other subject matter experts focused on child sex trafficking in the United States. In January 2019, the committee submitted preliminary recommendations to DOJ and HHS for improving federal and state responses to child sex trafficking. In FY 2018, HHS published new survivor-informed public awareness materials to reach faith and community-based partners and health professionals. In FY 2018, HHS supported 61 training and technical assistance activities, compared to 32 in FY 2017, reaching 8,506 training participants. These activities included online training designed to improve health care providers’ awareness of and response to human trafficking. For the second year, HHS continued its leadership academy composed of survivors and anti-trafficking professionals that developed recommendations for improving services. DOL worked with an NGO to train state authorities to identify and refer cases of labor trafficking in agriculture. The Department of Transportation (DOT) and DHS continued to train airline personnel and in FY 2018 had 20 active partnerships with airlines and aviation industry organizations. Under the law, DOT established a new advisory committee on human trafficking composed of representatives from NGOs, transportation sectors, and labor associations that will develop recommendations for DOT and best practices for the state and local departments of transportation, private industry, NGOs, transportation authorities, and other transportation stakeholders. In FY 2018, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) participated in 188 outreach events that addressed human trafficking, reaching more than 9,370 individuals, including state and local government partners, and continued efforts to increase public awareness about human trafficking with its human trafficking resource guide. The EEOC also conducted training on identifying and developing trafficking-related charges of discrimination. DOS launched a consultant network of survivors and other subject matter experts to inform its anti-trafficking policies and programs. DOS also added a human trafficking module in its orientation program for U.S. chiefs of mission and updated its human trafficking course for consular staff. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) created a new strategy for promoting and prioritizing survivor empowerment through its programs. Congress made available more than $95 million in FY 2018 foreign assistance resources to DOS and USAID to support anti-trafficking initiatives in more than 45 countries.
NGOs continued to call for a more comprehensive approach to address the factors and conditions that increase vulnerabilities, including by promoting fair wages and access to social services. Advocates also called for additional research into the prevalence and characteristics of human trafficking in the United States, especially for labor trafficking and other trafficking cases involving men, boys, and LGBTI individuals, to improve targeted prevention efforts.
DOL, DHS, and DOS 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, including 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. They also called for more training of government agencies and law enforcement to distinguish between labor violations and labor trafficking. 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, NGOs called for increased transparency and accountability for temporary worker programs and for agencies to develop a more accessible system to share visa and job-related information with workers in real time, including the names of employer petitioners.
For the H-2A program, DOL maintains an online list of certified and debarred U.S.-based farm labor contractors but does not maintain a list of foreign farm labor recruiters. For the H-2B program, DOL maintains and updates quarterly an online list of foreign labor recruiters; this list does not certify or indicate recruiters’ compliance with the recruitment fee ban.
In FY 2018, DOL issued 11,319 H-2A and 7,420 H-2B temporary labor certifications compared to 9,797 and 6,599 in FY 2017, respectively, and debarred 35 employers for substantially violating material terms or conditions of such temporary labor certifications. DHS, which adjudicates employer petitions for such workers, does not delineate reasons for H-2A and H-2B denials; thus, data related to the number of denials based upon prohibited fee practices is unavailable.
NGOs continued to report that formal and informal recruiters and agents charged workers prohibited fees and noted weak government enforcement of the recruitment fee ban. One NGO stated the H-2B list was not published frequently enough or in a format that allowed workers to verify recruiters and reported this outdated or incomplete information aided unscrupulous recruiters with creating more plausible, but false, offers. An NGO noted an H-2A farm labor contractor who pled guilty to visa fraud was not debarred and continued to participate in the program.
Another NGO reported that lack of oversight, coupled with the government’s practice of denying visas to applicants who reported paying recruitment fees, disincentivized applicants from reporting violations to authorities. NGOs called for the formalization of the labor recruitment process, such as through the creation of registration requirements and a government-run public registry of authorized labor recruiters.
DOS 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. DOS continued to monitor exchange visitors to help safeguard their health, safety, and welfare and to identify and investigate program fraud and abuse. DOS conducted outreach throughout 2018 to raise program sponsors’ awareness of their administrative oversight and reporting obligations to DOS with respect to the health, safety, and welfare of exchange visitors. DOS requires EVP sponsors to provide all exchange visitors with the “Know Your Rights” pamphlet during orientation sessions. DOS conducted field monitoring across all EVP categories in 2018, visiting 1,103 exchange visitors in 311 sites in 21 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. DOS also continued community outreach efforts in 22 states with significant SWT populations, which included outreach with local host organizations and exchange visitors to raise awareness about human trafficking. DOS continued to liaise with law enforcement on criminal investigations relating to the EVP. In February 2019, a federal court allowed to proceed a certified class of workers in the SWT, Intern, and Trainee programs who alleged they were forced to work in violation of the TVPA; DOS previously removed the party named in the lawsuit as a designated sponsor of the SWT, Intern, and Trainee programs. DOS is not party to the lawsuit.
Reports continued to allege abuse under the Au Pair program involving au pairs working extra hours without additional pay and not receiving the appropriate wage for their placement jurisdiction. An NGO report released during the reporting period found that, between 2014 and 2017, national human trafficking hotline data included allegations involving 25 au pairs of physical and verbal abuse, and withholding of identity and immigration documents. NGOs reported the need for additional steps to reduce the risks of exploitation in the SWT program, noting concerns with exorbitant program fees and exploitative work conditions. NGOs called for further reforms of the Au Pair and SWT programs, such as requiring program participants to receive contracts detailing the scope and conditions of work.
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 that 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.
DOS 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, DC, area, and announced the expansion of the program to two new cities and selected the New York metropolitan region as one of them. On January 8, 2019, the government amended the TVPA to require DOS to suspend the A-3 or G-5 visas privileges of any foreign mission or international organization in certain specific circumstances, including in cases where there is an unpaid default or final civil judgment related to human trafficking against the employer assigned to the embassy.
NGOs called for an expansion of the In-Person Registration Program to additional cities and for DOS to suspend domestic worker visa privileges of any foreign mission or international organization that has not adequately addressed allegations of abuse of any domestic worker, as required by the TVPA.
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 2018, DOL continued enforcement activities in industries including agriculture, landscaping, hotels, seafood, and reforestation.
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 2018, the EEOC received eight new charges of discrimination linked to human trafficking. It also resolved 35 similar pending charges and recovered more than $244,000 in monetary benefits for charging parties through the administrative process. As of September 20, 2018, the EEOC had 10 pending charges linked to human trafficking. While the EEOC filed no new employment discrimination lawsuits linked to human trafficking in FY 2018, it continued to litigate a previously filed case.
Federal law also allows a trafficking victim to independently file a civil cause of action, and during the reporting period individuals filed such cases. The number of civil cases increased during the reporting period, with most brought by foreign national plaintiffs alleging forced labor.
The government continued its efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex and forced labor in the reporting period. DoD, in partnership with local law enforcement, investigated 117 cases in FY 2018 of service members allegedly violating DoD’s prohibition on procuring commercial sex, a significant increase from 10 investigations the previous year. DOJ continued to prosecute individuals for sex trafficking who pay or attempt to pay for commercial sex involving children.
NGOs called for increased efforts to address the demand for all forms of human trafficking.
DOJ and DHS continued to proactively investigate allegations of child sex tourism 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. Three defendants were convicted of federal child sex tourism charges in FY 2018 compared to nine 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, along with DHS, DOS, and DoD, continued to implement a strategy to track registered sex offenders traveling internationally and notify destination countries.
DOJ and other federal law enforcement agencies did not receive allegations of forced labor or recruitment fees required of third-country nationals working on certain U.S. government contracts abroad, and there were not any federal criminal prosecutions of employers or labor contractors for such violations in connection with U.S. government contracts abroad in FY 2018.
During the reporting period, federal law was amended to prohibit the charging of any recruitment fees on federal contracts by federal contractors and grantees, or by any entity in their supply chains, and the government finalized a definition of “recruitment fees” in the Federal Acquisition Regulation in order to strengthen protections against trafficking in federal contracts. The government did not publish finalized guidance for federal contractors in anti-trafficking risk management best practices and mitigation considerations during the reporting period. DoD took action against noncompliant employers or labor contractors from U.S. programs resulting in nine non-compliance requests, four cure notices, one show cause letter, one contractor personnel termination, six contractor employee debarments and one subcontractor debarment, and one contract termination. DHS had zero contract suspensions or debarments related to human trafficking in FY 2018. The government, along with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, launched a set of principles for governments to use as a framework for preventing and addressing forced labor in public and private sector supply chains.
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 issued two Withhold Release Orders from April 1, 2018, to March 31, 2019, for shipments of goods on grounds they were produced by forced labor. The government continued to enforce a law that extends this prohibition to any imports produced by North Korean nationals. In October 2018, pursuant to Congressional directive, DOJ launched an interagency task force to address legal and jurisdictional issues related to human trafficking in fishing in international waters. The government signed but the U.S. Congress has not yet ratified a trade agreement that requires the parties to prohibit the importation of goods produced by forced labor. DOL released French and Spanish language versions of its mobile application that provides companies and industry groups with practical guidance on how to identify risks of forced labor in their supply chains and mitigate or remediate abuses.
In FY 2018, DOI delivered awareness training to 335 officers, criminal investigators, and gaming employees and conducted 18 trainings for 178 attendees, including DOI law enforcement, tribal and state victim and social service providers, tribal council members, and tribal community members. DHS sought input from survivors to produce a new educational poster series and video to raise awareness among American Indian and Alaska Native communities. DHS also produced a webinar for law enforcement on how to better recognize and respond to American Indian and Alaska Native victims of human trafficking. In FY 2018, for the first time, Congress set aside $133 million to support tribes and strengthen services for victims of crime, including human trafficking. DOJ and DOI partnered to expand access to DOJ’s national crime information databases to more tribal governments. Incorporating feedback from tribes, DOJ re-launched a program to create four new positions focused on facilitating collaboration between tribal and federal judicial authorities on criminal cases, including sex trafficking. HHS produced webinars and conducted an in-person pilot of its training module adapted to focus specifically on American Indian and Alaska Native populations to increase public awareness, identify victims, connect victims to services, and prevent human trafficking. The federal interagency ad hoc working group, which focused on increasing the effectiveness and coordination of the government’s anti-trafficking efforts for American Indian and Alaska Native communities, released a resource guide on U.S. government entities combating human trafficking in such communities.
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.
HHS provides 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 2018, the HHS-funded national hotline received no calls from U.S. territories compared to 19 in FY 2017. In FY 2018, HHS provided grant-funded training and technical assistance in Puerto Rico. In addition, in FY 2018, DOJ and HHS provided training and technical assistance to support the development of multidisciplinary anti-trafficking task forces in Puerto Rico and the USVI.
As part of the prosecution statistics previously mentioned, DOJ filed four new human trafficking cases and convicted nine defendants in CNMI and Puerto Rico within the reporting period.
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. Traffickers compel victims to engage in commercial sex and to work in both legal and illicit industries, including in hospitality, traveling sales crews, agriculture, janitorial services, construction, restaurants, care for persons with disabilities, salon services, massage parlors, retail, fairs and carnivals, peddling and begging, drug smuggling and distribution, 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 2018 were the United States, Mexico, and the Philippines. Populations 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; American Indians and Alaska Natives, particularly women and girls; individuals with drug addictions, 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 participants in court-ordered substance use diversion programs. Advocates reported a growing trend of traffickers targeting victims with disabilities and an increase in the use of online social media platforms to recruit and advertise victims of human trafficking. Some U.S. citizens engage in child sex tourism in foreign countries.