I am honored to be named to the Homeland Security Advisory Council under Secretary Mayorkas’s leadership. While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is best known for its role in fighting terrorism, the work of this agency also sits at the very heart of the nation’s response to human trafficking.
Within the Department, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) plays a central role in investigating trafficking, including taking the lead role on the vast majority of labor trafficking cases and many adult sex trafficking cases and ensuring that victims and survivors get connected to services to recover. The US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) determines survivors’ eligibility for T-visas, offering immigration relief for foreign national victims of trafficking. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) ensures goods made with forced labor cannot enter the United States. And of course, DHS plays a central role in the implementation of the temporary guest worker visa system, which Polaris has been working to reform.
DHS also plays a central role in strengthening our nation’s cybersecurity. With the recent rise in weaponized mis-, dis-, and malinformation about human trafficking, the intersection of cybersecurity and anti-trafficking efforts are more essential than ever.
As a first-generation Chinese-American, how the U.S. Government treats immigrants and migrant workers is of paramount importance to me. In October 2021, the Biden Administration released a new policy directive, shifting the focus for Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) toward investigation of employers who threaten and abuse workers, rather than focusing on deporting workers who lack legal status. This is a critically important shift because traffickers use immigration status as a weapon – threatening those under control with deportation if they refuse to get in line and do what they are told.
There is so much more to be done to protect immigrant victims of human trafficking and reform a system that puts too many people at risk for abuse. As a member of the HSAC, I am proud to help inform DHS’ approach to dramatically improve how this country addresses human trafficking with a survivor-centered, justice and equity driven approach.
– Catherine Chen, Chief Executive Officer of Polaris