Article originally published on Innocence Atlanta on September 16, 2011.
If you were unaware of the flurry of activity regarding National Call-In Day on September 8th, you might also have missed the point behind it: to encourage legislators to pass the 2011 version of the Trafficking Victims Reauthorization Act, or TVPRA, which is set to expire on September 30, 2011. However, even if you missed National Call-In day, it’s not too late to call your senators and encourage them to pass the bill. International Justice Mission makes activism easy by offering an idiot-proof guide to calling senators about the TVPRA.
Jesse Eaves, Policy Advisor for World Vision’s Children in Crisis program, stresses the extreme importance of the bill to anti-trafficking efforts:
“The Trafficking Victims Protection Act is hugely influential in giving other countries the support they need to step up their fight against trafficking…It is the best diplomatic tool we have, and if it is not renewed, the United States’ fight against trafficking will end on October 1.” (Health News)
So what’s so important about this bill, anyway?
In 2000, the U.S government passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), a bill now regarded as the most significant step forward in combating trafficking in the nation’s history. (For a history of trafficking related legislation prior to the TVPA, check out Summer Intern Natalie Decker’s blog post) According to a fact sheet provided by the Department of Health and Human service, the 2000 TVPA took a firm stand against trafficking into and within the United States through a model of prevention, protection and prosecution.
The preventive aspect of the bill authorized the annual Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report, which gathers extensive research about global patterns of trafficking and increases public knowledge and awareness. The TVPA also established a global standard for countries dealing with human trafficking, which the TIP reports on each year. As well as raising awareness, the original TVPA was designed to protect victims from deportation and retaliation, which encouraged them to testify against their traffickers in court. Temporary visas, permanent residency, witness protection program eligibility, healthcare, housing, and rehabilitative services are provided to trafficking victims who are willing to aid in the prosecution of human trafficking. To punish the traffickers and deter would-be criminals, the TVPA upped the charges of trafficking from a misdemeanor to a felony, and introduced the possibility of life sentences in jail, depending on the nature of the crime.
Every few years, the TVPA is reincarnated as a more improved version of itself through reauthorization. This has taken place in 2003, 2005, and 2008 as knowledge and methods of combating trafficking have increased. Activists and anti-trafficking leaders hope that it will take place again in this year with the 2011 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).
WHAT DOES THE 2011 TVPRA MEAN FOR CHILD TRAFFICKING VICTIMS?
- “Authorizing the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Office to negotiate child protection compacts with designated focus countries to increase resources and political will to eradicate child trafficking (the essential provisions of the Child Protection Compact Act). ” (IJM)
- Further prosecuting American citizens who travel abroad to have sex with children by strengthening the Protect Act. The Protect Act allows the U.S government to prosecute Americans visiting abroad who participate in child sex tourism. The 2011 TVPRA would also allow prosecution of Americans living abroad that purchase sex with underage victims of trafficking, as well.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR VICTIMS WHO HAVE BEEN TRAFFICKED INTO THE COUNTRY?
This recent story about a trafficking witness whose family became the target of a trafficker almost says enough about the need to protect witnesses and victims of trafficking from their abusers. In this case, the U.S government failed to keep its promise of protecting a witness and instead deported him. He was shot and his daughters were kidnapped by the man he’d planned to testify against (all three family members are currently safe).
The 2011 TVPRA will also protect unaccompanied minors who’ve arrived in the U.S by granting them access to the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program, which places them in foster care programs “tailored to the specific needs of vulnerable migrant youth”. (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services)
The TVPRA will continue the TVPA’s initiative to grant victims of trafficking temporary or permanent residence as well as giving them access to rehabilitative care. It also makes the important distinction between victims of trafficking and illegal immigrants.
Acting Deputy Assistant of the Office of Immigration and Border Security Kelly Ryan stated in a report to the Senate Judicary Committee earlier this week that
From October  through July 2011, USCIS has approved T nonimmigrant status for 1,009 victims of human trafficking and their families (437 principals and 572 family members). This already represents a 26 percent increase from fiscal year 2010. This upward trend indicates that we are becoming better at identifying victims and offering assistance.
The TVPA has made history, and will continue to do so, as one of the United States’ most effective means of addressing an insidious injustice occuring within its own borders against its own citizens. Be a part of that history by picking up the phone and calling your senators.