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|February 14, 2017

ATEST Statement on Executive Order on “Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking”

The following statement is from the Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST), a U.S.-based coalition that advocates for solutions to prevent and end all forms of human trafficking, of which Polaris is a member:

While the executive order on “Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking” rightfully recognizes human trafficking as a serious crime, it falls short of the comprehensive approach needed to end modern forms of slavery. A strong law enforcement response is a critical and necessary component of combating human trafficking; however, the framing of this order represents a significant departure from a long-standing victim-centered approach that is critical to successfully eradicating human trafficking and that is enshrined in existing law. For nearly two decades, the U.S. has implemented a strategy centered around protection of victims, prevention of the conditions that allow trafficking to flourish, prosecution of perpetrators, and partnership with civil society and the private sector. By only focusing on human trafficking from a law enforcement perspective, the executive order undermines this proven approach and jeopardizes U.S. leadership on combating this horrific crime.

The Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking (ATEST) has long advocated for the highest prioritization of concerted, strategic action to eradicate human trafficking. We believe human trafficking represents a fundamental threat to American communities, jobs, security, and values. By fighting traffickers who operate locally and also those who operate transnationally, law enforcement plays a crucial role in alleviating the threat of human trafficking — but they cannot conquer this threat alone. The efficacy of law enforcement’s efforts is directly tied to whether they adopt a victim-centered approach, and focus on addressing root causes of vulnerability to trafficking.

The U.S. has until now leveraged the full might and range of U.S. foreign policy, from diplomacy and trade policy to foreign assistance and multilateral engagement, to make a significant impact on human trafficking around the world. However, human trafficking is not only a transnational crime, it is a domestic one. U.S. efforts must address all forms of human trafficking. Trafficking victims are children, women, and men—U.S. citizens and foreign nationals—who are exploited for both sex and labor. Trafficking victims come from urban and rural communities. They are both undocumented and documented immigrant workers. They are not only victimized overseas, but also throughout the United States.

The United States must address this crime in all its forms. To do so, there are a number of areas that it must give significant consideration:

  • Tackling root causes must underlie any strategy for ending human trafficking. The executive order is silent on strategies to prevent human trafficking by reducing vulnerabilities to this horrific human rights abuse in the United States and around the world.
  • Comprehensive services to protect human trafficking victims must be a core component of any anti-trafficking initiative. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 laid out this approach acknowledging that without cooperating and stable victim-witnesses, effective prosecution of human trafficking is impossible.
  • While ATEST supports better data collection to maximize U.S. investments, the safety and security of victims, witnesses, and their family members must be paramount. The implementation of the executive order must not violate the privacy or risk the safety of any victims, witnesses, or their family members.
  • Traffickers often use immigration status as a tool of coercion to exploit immigrant communities, both documented and undocumented. Local enforcement of immigration law, as mandated under the executive order for “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” will irreparably damage law enforcement’s ability to identify, investigate and prosecute traffickers. Both executive orders will result in an imbalanced approach that is likely to exacerbate immigrants’ vulnerabilities and assist traffickers preying on these communities.
  • Traffickers exploit weak law enforcement regimes and abuse legal structures and institutions, and they target the most vulnerable in society. This often includes runaway and homeless youth; foster youth; the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) community; Native Americans; Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; migrant workers; youth of color; children; low literacy or numeracy individuals; and those with disabilities. The executive order is silent on the need to reach vulnerable communities.
  • Promoting corporate accountability is critical to disrupting and dismantling transnational criminal networks of human traffickers. The executive order is silent on whether the administration intends to focus on the escalating risks of forced labor and human trafficking in global supply chains.
  • Human trafficking requires a whole of government approach. The executive order is silent on existing interagency frameworks to combat human trafficking, including the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF) and the Senior Policy Operating Group (SPOG). These platforms engage critical agencies like the Department of Treasury that tracks financial crimes, the Department of Health and Human Services that provides support for victim services, and the Department of Labor that protects workers.
  • The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) implements the U.S.’ obligations under the Palermo Protocol. The executive order is silent on the TVPA and on our international legal obligations to protect victims and address root causes.

We can all agree that human trafficking is a serious crime and needs to be prioritized by the federal government. To be successful in stopping it, the administration should adopt a more comprehensive and victim-centered approach to combating this horrific human rights abuse and crime. The U.S. government can bring freedom, empowerment, and justice to millions of people around the world. ATEST’s new report “A Presidential Agenda for Abolishing Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking” is an urgent call for the new administration to undertake a deliberate, forward leaning, and strategic initiative to combat human trafficking.