U.S. lawmakers are considering strengthening a law aimed at fighting human trafficking. They held a hearing on the issue late Monday, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee that deals with human trafficking issues, underscored the seriousness of the problem. "It is estimated that one million people are trafficked across international borders each year, pressed into labor or servitude or commercial sex by the use of force, fraud or coercion. Human trafficking represents commerce in human misery," he said.
The United States is a signatory to the UN Protocol Against Trafficking in Persons, and it passed its first major anti-trafficking law in 2000.
Some provisions of the law are set to expire this year, and Durbin wanted an update from the Bush administration on how effective the measure has been as lawmakers consider proposals to renew it.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Grace Chung Becker says the law has been very successful. "In conjunction with the U.S. attorney's offices around the country, the civil rights division has increased by 600 percent the number of human trafficking cases filed in court in the last six years. From 2001 to today, we have initiated some 725 investigations. Last year, we received one of the highest sentences ever in a sex trafficking case for two of our lead defendants, 50 years of imprisonment," he said.
But Katherine Kaufka, supervising attorney at the Counter-Trafficking Services Program at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, says the law fails to protect trafficking victims. "Approximately 15,000 to 18,000 men, women and children are trafficked in the United States every year. However, since the passage of the TVPA [Trafficking Victims Protection Act] six years ago, almost 400 cases have been prosecuted on human trafficking charges, and approximately 1,500 trafficking visas have been issued. While it was the intent of the statute to punish traffickers and protect victims, these statistics show that we have failed to fulfill our goals. We believe the principal cause of this failure is that the burdens placed on victims is just too high," he said.
Kaufka called on Congress to include provisions aimed at protecting trafficking victims when it reauthorizes the law.
Senator Durbin agreed that human trafficking cases can be difficult to prosecute because victims are often reluctant to talk to law enforcement out of fear of arrest or deportation.