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Press Releases 2011

Belizean Trafficking Victim in the United States of America

March 4, 2011

Question: What can you say about the case of a Belizean girl, Jamelia, found in domestic servitude in Fresno?

Answer: It is a tragedy that Jamelia or any other person is subject to human trafficking. Her case is an active investigation and, as such, we cannot comment specifically about it. However, Jamelia's case is illustrative of a U.S. government system committed to providing justice for trafficking survivors both in and outside the courtroom.

Under U.S. law, Jamelia and other trafficked persons have access to comprehensive victim services such as shelter, health care, mental health care, food, safety, legal services, interpretation, victim advocacy, immigration relief, education, job skills, employment placement, family reunification, and reintegration. They may participate as a victim-witness in a criminal prosecution and may pursue a civil claim. Jamelia has assisted law enforcement in the criminal investigation. She has received a T Visa which provides four years lawful immigration status with work authorization. After three years, she can apply for lawful permanent residency also known as a green card.

Question: What are some highlights of the U.S. approach to combating trafficking?

Answer: The U.S. framework to combat trafficking is found in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Federal government coordination and implementation of the TVPA occurs at the cabinet-level through the President's Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and at a senior official level through the Senior Policy Operating Group.

Hallmarks of the U.S. approach to combating human trafficking include:

  • Human trafficking is treated as a grave and serious crime at the local, state and federal level with appropriate criminal penalties.
  • 33 task forces nationwide funded by the Department of Justice and comprised of local, state and federal law enforcement in addition to a representative non-governmental victim service provider. This collaborative and multidisciplinary approach is critical to identify, investigate and prosecute cases and ensure that victims have necessary services. State and local jurisdictions have formed task forces absent federal funding; the Fresno Police Department is just one example.
  • A victim-centered approach that recognizes victims require specialized care and are an integral part of any investigation and/or prosecution, therefore, offering services and building trust are necessary.
  • Comprehensive victim services such as shelter, health care, mental health care, food, safety, legal services, interpretation, victim advocacy, immigration relief, education, job skills, employment placement, family reunification, and reintegration.
  • Temporary immigration relief and work authorization for victims assisting investigations and prosecutions and longer term immigration relief for certain victims and their family members which may then lead to permanent residence and citizenship.
  • An expansive view of prevention activities that includes strengthening labor protections and enforcement, addressing demand for commercial sex, and working with civil society to rid corporate supply chains of forced labor.

Question: Why does the United States provide services and immigration relief to unauthorized immigrants who are trafficking victims?

Answer: Congress, under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, have extended protective services to victims of human trafficking under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, with amendments in 2003, 2005, and most recently in 2008. There is a bipartisan consensus that anyone enslaved in America deserves protection. The Trafficking Victim Protection Act recognizes persons as crime victims requiring assistance to both recover and from the impact of the crime and to encourage them to help law enforcement with an investigation and prosecution of the trafficker. Unlike citizen victims, foreign national victims require temporary immigration status and work authorization to legally remain in the United States if they may be needed as a witness, so the TVPA provides for this. There is also longer-term immigration relief available to child victims and to adult victims who stand ready to assist law enforcement efforts. The U.S. government funds non-governmental organizations to provide comprehensive services to trafficking victims.

: What is domestic servitude?

Answer: A unique form of forced labor is the involuntary servitude of domestic workers, whose workplace is informal, connected to their off-duty living quarters, and not often shared with other workers. Such an environment, which often socially isolates domestic workers, is conducive to nonconsensual exploitation since authorities cannot inspect private property as easily as formal workplaces. Investigators and service providers report many cases of untreated illnesses and, tragically, widespread sexual abuse, which in some cases may be symptoms of a situation of involuntary servitude. International efforts are ongoing to ensure that not only are administrative remedies enforced but also criminal penalties are enacted against those who hold others in involuntary domestic servitude.

: Where can I find more information about trafficking in the United States?

Answer: In 2010, the Department of State's annual Trafficking in Persons Report included the United States for the first time. It contains a synopsis of trafficking in the United States as well as the U.S. government's efforts to combat it. It can be accessed at the State Department website. A longer, detailed report submitted annually to Congress can be found at the Attorney General's Annual Report (PDF 2MB).