USDOS – US Department of State (Author)
The Government of the United States fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore the United States remained on Tier 1. These efforts included increasing the number of investigations for the second year in a row; increasing the number of victims served by federal grantees; granting T nonimmigrant status to more victims; increasing enforcement of the prohibition of imports made wholly or in part by forced labor; and issuing its first national action plan to combat human trafficking. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it implemented policies that placed greater limits on access to immigration options for trafficking victims for most of the reporting period prior to repealing them. These policies further increased some foreign national victims’ distrust in authorities and caused them to fear for their safety if they came forward to assist law enforcement, pursue these immigration options, or access services.As a result of the March 2020 Title 42 order related to the pandemic, the government began expelling migrants, including unaccompanied children. Such unaccompanied children were held in the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) custody for various lengths of time. While Title 8 of the U.S. Code requires the government to screen unaccompanied children and follow certain procedures to place the children in the least restrictive setting in the best interest of the child to combat child trafficking, unaccompanied children were processed and expelled pursuant to the Title 42 order and not Title 8 until February 2021. The government enforced policies that further marginalized communities overrepresented among trafficking victims, increasing their risk to human trafficking. It also initiated policy changes to certain employment-based nonimmigrant visa programs that reduced its ability to prevent trafficking and enforce workers’ rights under those programs, and it did not increase efforts to hold foreign labor recruiters civilly or criminally liable for criminal violations in connection with their recruitment practices. There was a continued lack of progress and sustained effort to comprehensively address labor trafficking in the United States, including in efforts to identify victims, provide specialized services to labor trafficking victims, and address obstacles to including high-risk sectors in federal labor protection laws. Law enforcement efforts for labor trafficking, the top recommendation for the last five years, continued to decline with the number of labor trafficking convictions declining each of the last three years. The government continued to not mandate human trafficking screening for all foreign national adults in immigration detention or custody. Officials prosecuted fewer cases for the third year in a row and secured convictions against fewer traffickers for the second year in a row. Advocates continued to report concerns that trafficking survivors were held in immigration detention, and survivors continued to be arrested for the unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit.
Increase investigation and prosecution of labor trafficking cases, and increase access to protections for labor trafficking victims. • Strengthen rules and regulations to ensure immigration enforcement does not hinder human trafficking detection, criminal law enforcement, or victim protections. • Screen all individuals in immigration detention or custody for human trafficking indicators. • Adopt inclusive policies that address aspects of government-run systems or programs that have disparate negative impact on marginalized communities and increase their vulnerability to human trafficking. • Improve access to emergency and long-term housing for all victims. • Increase access to and accessibility of specialized victim assistance for men, boys, LGBTQI+ persons, and persons with disabilities. • Mitigate vulnerabilities in employment-based or other nonimmigrant U.S. visa programs, including by holding accountable noncompliant employers and their agents, and adopting policies that incentivize workers to report program violations. • Increase the number of requests by federal law enforcement officials for Continued Presence. • Encourage state and local authorities to implement policies not to prosecute victims for the unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. • Train investigators, prosecutors, and judges to increase the number of forfeiture orders and mandatory restitution orders for trafficking victims, and use all available authorities to ensure restitution is paid. • Increase survivor engagement, including by establishing accessible mechanisms for receiving and providing compensation for survivor input when forming policies, programs, and trainings. • Increase training for and efforts to pursue financial crime investigations in tandem with human trafficking cases. • Conduct agency-level risk assessments for contracts connected to high-risk regions, industries, or sectors. • Strengthen efforts to examine the role of demand reduction in preventing human trafficking. As described in the Methodology section of this report, these recommendations were drawn from input solicited from multiple anti-trafficking stakeholders, such as advocates (which includes NGOs and subject matter experts who have survived human trafficking), academia, and government agencies, on how the United States could better meet the minimum standards set forth in the TVPA.
The government’s prosecution efforts were mixed. The government increased the number of investigations, and law enforcement officials adapted to pandemic-related restrictions by conducting remote forensic interviews. The number of prosecutions decreased for the third year in a row, and the number of convictions decreased for the second year in a row in the midst of pandemic-related court closures and suspension of grand jury proceedings throughout the reporting period. The TVPA, as amended and codified at Title 18 U.S. Code sections 1581, et seq., criminalizes sex and labor trafficking. U.S. law confers extraterritorial jurisdiction for these human trafficking offenses, as long as the defendant (whether individual or entity) is a U.S. national, U.S. lawful permanent resident, or regardless of nationality, present in the United States. The penalties prescribed under these provisions, which can include up to life imprisonment, are sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. U.S. law prohibits conspiracy and the attempt to violate these provisions, obstruction of the statutes’ enforcement, and benefiting from such acts. Additionally, a criminal statute prohibits the use of fraud to recruit workers abroad to come to the United States to work, or to recruit workers to work on a U.S. government contract performed outside the United States, on U.S. property, or on military installations outside the United States. During the reporting period, the U.S. Congress passed several laws that address human trafficking and related crimes, including a law requiring certain companies – which can be used as fronts for human trafficking and other illicit activities – to disclose their beneficial owners to the government and enable the tracing of human trafficking networks through financial transactions. Congress passed other legislation to extend authorization of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking and to allow for compensation of its members.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), DHS, Department of State (State), and Department of Defense (DoD) are the primary investigating agencies for federal human trafficking and other related offenses. DOJ prosecutes federal human trafficking cases. DOJ, DHS, and State support victims by engaging law enforcement victim assistance specialists during trafficking investigations and prosecutions, including by connecting identified victims to victim service providers. In response to the pandemic, DOJ developed a process to conduct remote forensic interviews. DHS’s victim assistance program created new guidance on conducting remote forensic interviews, including safety protocols, which allowed forensic interview specialists to continue interviews during the pandemic. DOJ, in coordination with DHS and the Department of Labor (DOL), continued to support complex human trafficking investigations and prosecutions initiated and developed in Phase II of the Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team (ACTeam) Initiative. DOJ conducted an assessment of Phase II of the initiative to inform preparation for Phase III, including updating training materials and revising the operations guide to support advanced investigation and prosecution techniques, including dismantling transnational organized crime human trafficking rings. Preparation for Phase III included efforts to ensure necessary resources are in place across all relevant agencies. DOJ provided more than $22.7 million to support the work of anti-trafficking task forces. More than $17.7 million in FY 2020 went to fund 14 Enhanced Collaborative Model (ECM) anti-trafficking task forces, which included awards to 13 state and local law enforcement agencies and 14 victim service providers, compared to $21 million for 15 ECM task forces funded in FY 2019 (13 state and local law enforcement agencies and 12 victim service organizations). In addition, DOJ provided almost $5 million for training and technical assistance focused on building the capacity of law enforcement and multidisciplinary teams. Several federal agencies participated in other human trafficking task forces nationwide consisting of federal, state, and local law enforcement, as well as victim service providers.
Advocates called on federally funded task forces to continue to increase engagement with local survivor leaders and service providers to improve victim services, including by developing and implementing a standard set of trauma-informed, victim-centered protocols. NGOs called on the government to discontinue ECM task force funding and to increase overall funding for NGOs providing victim services, noting the current approach has not achieved its goal to build sustainable collaboration between law enforcement and service providers on human trafficking cases.
The federal government reports its law enforcement data by fiscal year, which may include joint federal and state or local initiatives but does not include separate state law enforcement data. In FY 2020, DHS opened 947 investigations related to human trafficking, a decrease from 1,024 in FY 2019. DOJ formally opened 663 human trafficking investigations in FY 2020, an increase from 607 in FY 2019. Of DOJ’s FY 2020 investigations, 619 involved predominately sex trafficking, 41 involved predominately labor trafficking, and three involved both sex and labor trafficking. State reported investigating 95 human trafficking-related cases worldwide during FY 2020, a decrease from 134 in FY 2019. In FY 2020, DoD reported investigating 160 human trafficking-related cases involving DoD military, civilian, and contractor personnel, a significant increase from 65 in FY 2019, and 55 of those cases were referred for criminal investigation. Of the 160 human trafficking-related cases, 112 were related to forced labor, most of which DoD investigated through an administrative process that referred cases to criminal investigators if appropriate. The 112 forced labor investigations are detailed in the Prevention section below.
DOJ initiated a total of 210 federal human trafficking prosecutions in FY 2020, a decrease from 220 in FY 2019, 230 in FY 2018, and 282 in FY 2017. DOJ charged 337 defendants in FY 2020, a decrease from 343 in FY 2019, 386 in FY 2018, and 553 in FY 2017. Of these FY 2020 prosecutions, 195 involved predominantly sex trafficking and 15 involved predominantly labor trafficking, compared to 208 and 12 in FY 2019; 213 and 17 in FY 2018; and 266 and 16 in FY 2017, respectively.
During FY 2020, DOJ secured convictions against 309 traffickers, a significant decrease from 475 convictions in FY 2019 and 526 in FY 2018. Of these, 297 involved predominantly sex trafficking and 12 involved predominantly labor trafficking, compared to 454 and 21 in FY 2019; 501 and 25 in FY 2018; and 471 and 28 in FY 2017, respectively. Federal courthouses closed or operated at limited capacity for about six months of the reporting period due to the pandemic, and most human trafficking-related trials scheduled for FY 2020 were postponed to FY 2021. In addition, some enforcement operations were postponed; some witness interviews were postponed or happened virtually; grand juries were not able to convene for a period of time, delaying presentation of indictments; and some investigative work that required travel or in-person contacts was delayed.
These prosecutions and convictions include cases brought under trafficking-specific criminal statutes and non-trafficking criminal statutes, but they do not include child sex trafficking cases brought under non-trafficking statutes. Among the 168 traffickers sentenced to prison in cases brought under trafficking-specific criminal statutes, which excludes trafficking cases brought under non-trafficking statutes, terms ranged from one month to life imprisonment, with more than 76 percent of defendants receiving prison sentences of five or more years. Two traffickers received a probation-only sentence, and six received a suspended sentence.
Advocates continued to call for increased training of relevant officials and efforts to identify, investigate, and prosecute labor trafficking cases. NGOs noted federal human trafficking cases involve predominately sex trafficking despite certain service providers reporting nearly one third of their clients were victims of labor trafficking. NGOs called for DOJ to develop a process through which human trafficking cases that are not prosecuted can be referred to other relevant authorities, such as DOL, for possible action.
NGOs called for U.S. law enforcement entities to pursue financial investigations as a standard practice when investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases and cited the existence of a strong legal framework for such investigations. NGOs reported the government has never prosecuted an extraterritorial labor trafficking case with a nexus to the United States and urged the government to increase its focus on such cases. NGOs noted a trend of criminal proceedings in human trafficking cases being delayed due to the pandemic.
DOJ and DHS continued to advance bilateral investigations and prosecutions of transnational trafficking enterprises operating across the U.S.-Mexico border by facilitating exchanges of leads, intelligence, and expertise between U.S. and Mexican anti-trafficking authorities, and providing support to 13 Mexican state-level human trafficking task forces. DOJ, in collaboration with the Department of the Treasury (Treasury), increased engagement with Mexican anti-money laundering authorities to enhance capacity to identify and combat human trafficking and secure trafficking proceeds for victim restitution. Treasury released a human trafficking advisory, supplementing its 2014 advisory, to inform financial institutions of additional typologies, behavioral indicators, and financial red flags so they may better detect and report suspicious transactions indicative of human trafficking. Treasury continued to analyze and disseminate information received from financial institutions related to human trafficking and partnered with domestic and foreign government stakeholders to support human trafficking investigations. Treasury and State, after consulting with interagency and external stakeholders, submitted a report to Congress that examined anti-money laundering efforts of the U.S. government and financial institutions with respect to human trafficking. DOJ continued to train federal human trafficking prosecutors on forfeiture and restitution for victims.
Advocates continued to call for federal prosecutors to seek, and for courts to award, mandatory restitution for both sex and labor trafficking cases, citing concerns about both the low number of cases in which it was ordered and the low rate of payment of restitution to trafficking victims consistent with restitution orders. One NGO noted that 50 percent of defendants convicted of a crime that triggered mandatory restitution were ordered to pay restitution in 2020, an increase from approximately 40 percent in 2019. Advocates also called for increased and improved training of investigators, prosecutors, and judges on mandatory restitution, and urged the government to use its available authorities, such as freezing or seizing assets and seeking forfeiture, to ensure compliance with restitution orders. Advocates again noted that, while not required by law, many victims lacked independent legal counsel to assist them in obtaining restitution. NGOs called for DOJ to establish an office to lead government efforts to improve access to justice in the civil and criminal justice systems for low-income and underserved individuals who are often at increased risk of human trafficking.
State laws form the basis of most criminal actions in the United States. All U.S. states and territories have anti-trafficking criminal statutes. Forty-six states had laws allowing survivors to seek a court order vacating, expunging, or sealing criminal convictions entered against them that resulted from unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. In three of these states, however, such relief was only available to child trafficking victims. At least 35 states had “safe harbor” laws, which are meant to prevent child sex trafficking victims from being prosecuted for commercial sex.
One NGO reported that some state vacatur laws provided limited relief for trafficking victims with criminal records resulting from unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. In addition, NGOs continued to call for the adoption of federal vacatur legislation.
NGOs continued to report trafficking victims were arrested at the state and local levels for the unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit including commercial sex and drug-related charges, and called for the government to increase efforts to identify victims in the context of law enforcement “sting” operations. One NGO noted 89 percent of its current clients who reported being arrested or convicted of a crime were Black, indigenous, or people of color. That NGO further stated victims from those communities were more likely to be charged for crimes traffickers compelled them to commit and to be threatened with charges if they did not cooperate in a case against their trafficker. Even in some states with “safe harbor” laws, child victims were arrested. One NGO noted child sex trafficking victims can still be charged with prostitution in 19 states despite being defined as human trafficking victims under federal law, and only 18 states protect child sex trafficking victims from being prosecuted for crimes other than commercial sex, including theft or forgery. An NGO expressed concern that some states’ laws require child victims to cooperate in identifying their traffickers to qualify as victims of sex trafficking, a process that is often re-traumatizing.
The federal government continued to collect state and local data on human trafficking investigations during the reporting period through the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. Data from 2019 collected from participating jurisdictions are publicly available. Ninety-six percent of U.S. states had some participating jurisdictions in 2019, compared to 94 percent the previous year, although the numbers of participating jurisdictions in each of those states varied. Not all agencies within all states have the ability to report data to the UCR Program. In 2019, participating jurisdictions reported a total of 703 human trafficking offenses resulting in arrest or solved for crime reporting purposes, an increase from 548 in 2018. There is no other formal mechanism for the federal government to track prosecutions at the state and local levels.
The government took actions to address alleged complicity in human trafficking by government personnel. A U.S. naval officer was found guilty of sex trafficking. A former U.S. Army reserve police officer was sentenced to 40 years for sex trafficking crimes. A state attorney was charged with human trafficking and is awaiting trial. There were reported instances of law enforcement officers engaging in sexual acts with known or suspected victims of sex trafficking, in the course of conducting criminal investigations. Federal inquiries into these incidents remained ongoing as of the end of the reporting period.
Advocates called for federal law enforcement agencies to adopt and enforce explicit policies stating that officers should not engage in sex acts while acting in an official capacity or conducting an investigation.
The U.S. government continued to build the capacity of law enforcement, judges, military personnel, and labor inspectors, among others, to respond more effectively to human trafficking cases. DOJ conducted more than 24 trainings in FY 2020 for federal, state, and local law enforcement, including task forces members and financial units, on how to investigate financial crimes and money laundering investigations to enhance human trafficking and child exploitation cases. DOJ trained more than 2,000 law enforcement, government, and NGO partners on effective strategies for identifying human trafficking cases and victims, including through proactive labor trafficking investigations and best practices in conducting survivor-centered, trauma-informed investigations and prosecutions. DOJ convened a workshop for national human trafficking coordinators, delivered regional task force trainings, and introduced a new course on trauma-informed victim interviewing and the neurobiology of trauma. DOJ continued to provide training to federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners on how to proactively investigate labor trafficking. DHS provided training on the indicators of human trafficking to more than 21,700 federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers in FY 2020. DHS separately trained more than 940 federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials and stakeholders nationwide through its new online human trafficking awareness training. DoD continued to require all its investigative professionals to take training on human trafficking investigations. The Department of the Interior (DOI) provided training to about 1,325 of its law enforcement officers, first responders, contracting officers, as well as other federal, state, local, and tribal organizations on human trafficking. State trained its agents and analysts who investigate and support human trafficking cases to identify networks and engage with survivors using a victim-centered approach.
Advocates called for increased training across all criminal justice sectors, including law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges, to correct misconceptions about what constitutes a human trafficking crime. One NGO called for more training on trauma-informed care during the criminal justice process to avoid retraumatizing victims who choose to testify against their traffickers and called for training on the effect on victims of prosecuting victims for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. Advocates called on the government to ensure that law enforcement trainings, including on labor trafficking investigations and cultural sensitivity, are developed in consultation with survivor leaders. Advocates called for training and technical assistance for law enforcement and judges to recognize when individuals with cognitive disabilities are targeted by traffickers. One NGO called on the government to provide consistent training on conducting financial investigations to all federal law enforcement agents tasked primarily with pursuing human trafficking cases.
During the reporting period, the government decreased overall protection efforts. The government increased the number of victims served and the number of federally funded victim assistance programs. The number of victims granted T nonimmigrant status significantly increased, although the median processing time for T nonimmigrant status was longer. Despite these efforts, for the majority of the reporting period until largely being repealed in the final two months, the government implemented policies that increased obstacles for foreign national trafficking victims to secure immigration options, including T and U nonimmigrant status and asylum. Advocates noted for the third consecutive year such policies resulted in increased reports of trafficking victims being afraid to report their cases to government officials, pursue immigration options, or seek services; for those who did apply for an immigration option, they faced longer periods of time without support services, legal status, and employment authorization. The government did not implement screening and processing protocols for unaccompanied children intended to prevent child trafficking before expelling them as a result of an order related to the pandemic until February 2021, did not create a law enforcement victim screening protocol as required by law, and did not mandate screening of adult foreign nationals apprehended, interdicted, or held in detention pending deportation. Advocates again reported concerns that trafficking survivors were held in immigration detention facilities and that the government still did not provide sufficient services for labor trafficking victims, boys and men, and LGBTQI+ persons.
The government had formal procedures to guide officials in victim identification and referral to service providers. The government also funded several federal tip lines, including an NGO-operated national hotline and referral service, as well as victim assistance organizations that provided trafficking-specific services. Victim assistance funded by the federal government included case management, medical care, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, housing and shelter, translation and interpretation services, a broad range of legal services, employment and training, transportation assistance, and other services.
DOJ provided funding for victim-centered services for both foreign national and domestic trafficking victims. In June 2020, DOJ consolidated its program office’s law enforcement, juvenile justice, and victim services human trafficking initiatives into one division within the same office to better align its funding, training, victim assistance, and other resources. HHS issued Certification and Eligibility Letters to foreign national victims of severe forms of trafficking to establish eligibility to apply for benefits and services to the same extent as refugees, provided grant funding for comprehensive case management for foreign national and domestic trafficking victims, and funded capacity-building grants for community-based organizations and child welfare systems to respond to trafficking. Record-keeping systems used by DOJ and HHS did not allow for cross-referencing to determine which victims were served by grantees of both agencies.
During FY 2020, DOJ provided about $74.6 million for 133 awards to support victim assistance programs across the United States, compared to $73.3 million for 116 awards in FY 2019. Specific programs included $35.1 million for 73 housing assistance awards (supported in part with funding returned to DOJ by the Department of Housing and Urban Development), $23.6 million for 43 victim service awards addressing a broad range of case management and specialized service needs, and $14.9 million for 15 awards supporting specialized services at the state level for child trafficking victims. In addition, DOJ provided funding to increase survivors’ access to educational and employment opportunities ($300,000) and for training and technical assistance to improve housing services offered to trafficking victims nationwide (about $643,000). DOJ grantees providing victim services reported from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, 9,854 open trafficking client cases, an increase from 8,375 open client cases the previous year. Of these open client cases, 5,968 were new clients, an increase from 5,090 new clients reported the previous year. DOJ’s grantees reported 61 percent of clients served during the reporting period were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, 37 percent were foreign nationals, and the status of two percent was unknown. Grantees reported 62 percent of clients served were victims of sex trafficking, 23 percent were victims of labor trafficking, seven percent were identified as victims of both sex and labor trafficking, and the form of trafficking for eight percent was unknown.
HHS runs two victim assistance programs – one for foreign national victims and the other for domestic victims of human trafficking. HHS awarded $5.4 million in FY 2020 for the provision of case management services to foreign national victims through a nationwide network of NGO sub-recipients, a significant decrease from $10.9 million in FY 2019. Through this program, HHS supported 96 NGOs that served 2,352 individuals, including 1,457 victims of trafficking and 895 qualified family members in 41 states and U.S. territories, a significant increase from 1,573 individuals served from the previous year. HHS’s grantees in its victim assistance program for foreign national victims reported 66 percent of clients served were victims of labor trafficking, 22 percent were victims of sex trafficking, and 12 percent were identified as victims of both sex and labor trafficking. For the provision of case management services to domestic victims of human trafficking, HHS awarded $5.3 million in FY 2020, a significant increase from $2.9 million in FY 2019, which served 884 victims of trafficking in 11 states through collaborative partnerships with 245 service providers, an increase from 825 individuals served the previous year. HHS’s grantees in its victim assistance program for domestic victims of human trafficking reported 95.5 percent of clients served were victims of sex trafficking, 0.5 percent were victims of labor trafficking, three percent were identified as victims of both sex and labor trafficking, and the form of trafficking for one percent was unknown.
In response to the pandemic, DOJ and HHS published comprehensive resource guides for grantees that included how to operate, provide services, and manage grants during the pandemic. HHS provided flexibilities in grant program performance reporting deadlines and technical assistance to support grantees’ transition to remote operations and phased re-openings.
Advocates noted that while funding for victim services remained high, these investments were undermined by policies and practices that decreased the availability of protections to trafficking victims and support for individuals at heightened risk to trafficking. Advocates noted a continued lack of available federal trafficking victim resources or specialized services for labor trafficking victims, boys and men, LGBTQI+ persons, persons with disabilities, and those who do not wish to participate in the criminal justice process. NGOs called on DOL to fund employment programs specifically for human trafficking survivors through its public workforce system.
NGOs reported the pandemic affected survivors, such as through job loss, heightened health issues or reduced access to health care, and delays with judicial decisions in their trafficking cases, and noted that survivors thus had a greater reliance on services, needed services for longer periods of time, or returned to services. NGOs called for flexibility in government service grants to meet these needs. Advocates reported even more drastic lack of access to housing because of the need for shelters and housing facilities to operate at limited capacity due to the pandemic, coupled with increased assistance requests, including for transitional housing and long-term housing options for trafficking victims. One NGO called for grant funding for emergency and temporary housing options to meet this exacerbated housing need.
A Certification Letter enables foreign national adult victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons to be eligible to apply for benefits and services to the same extent as refugees when DHS grants Continued Presence or when a victim has a bona fide or approved application for T nonimmigrant status, as described further below. An Eligibility or Interim Assistance Letter enables foreign national minors to apply for benefits and services to the same extent as refugees. HHS issues such letters when the Department receives credible information the child is or may be a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons under the TVPA. HHS issued 508 Certification Letters to foreign national adults in FY 2020, representing a significant increase from 311 in FY 2019, and issued 673 Eligibility Letters to foreign national children in FY 2020, representing a significant decrease from 892 in FY 2019. Of the 508 foreign national adult victims certified in FY 2020, 70 percent were labor trafficking victims, 15 percent were sex trafficking victims, 11 percent were victims of both sex and labor trafficking, and four percent were victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons unknown to HHS. Out of 673 foreign national child victims certified in FY 2020, 69 percent were labor trafficking victims, 25 percent were sex trafficking victims, five percent were victims of both labor and sex trafficking, and one percent were victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons unknown to HHS. In FY 2020, HHS launched an online case management system to automate and streamline the process for survivors to request assistance, receive secure case coordination messages, and check for updates on cases and letter verification status.
In FY 2020, a State program reunified 87 family members with 43 identified victims of trafficking in the United States, a significant decrease from 204 family members and 89 identified victims in FY 2019.
DHS provides immigration options specifically for victims of trafficking through Continued Presence, a temporary immigration designation, and T nonimmigrant status, another temporary immigration benefit (commonly referred to as the “T visa”). Both immigration options strengthen law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute human trafficking by offering foreign national victims temporary immigration relief. To qualify for Continued Presence, law enforcement must identify an individual as a victim of human trafficking who may be a potential witness in the investigation or prosecution of the trafficker. To qualify for T nonimmigrant status, an applicant must demonstrate that they (1) are a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons; (2) are physically present in the United States, its territories and outlying possessions, or at a U.S. port of entry on account of trafficking; (3) have complied with reasonable requests from law enforcement, unless they are younger than the age of 18 or unable to cooperate due to trauma suffered; and (4) would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm upon removal from the United States. T nonimmigrant applicants may sponsor certain family members, including certain extended family members who face a present danger of retaliation as a result of the principal applicant’s trafficking situation or cooperation with law enforcement. T nonimmigrants and their derivative family members are authorized to work and are eligible for certain federal public benefits and services. T nonimmigrant status is granted for a period of four years and may be extended under certain limited circumstances. After three years, or upon the completion of the investigation or prosecution, T nonimmigrants may be eligible to apply for lawful permanent resident status and eventually may be eligible for citizenship. DHS granted T nonimmigrant status to 1,040 victims in FY 2020, a significant increase from 500 victims in FY 2019, and granted T nonimmigrant status to 1,018 eligible family members of victims in FY 2020, compared to 491 family members in FY 2019. The median processing time for T nonimmigrant status applications increased to 18.6 months in FY 2020 from 16.2 months in FY 2019, 12.1 months in FY 2018, and 9.6 months in FY 2017.
During the reporting period, the government continued to modify its immigration policies affecting certain forms of humanitarian relief, such as T nonimmigrant status. A new administration came into office in January 2021 and reviewed, rescinded, and announced it would not implement a number of these policies. DHS published a final rule in August 2020 that changed its fee waiver determination process for certain immigration filings, including filings related to T nonimmigrant status. Under this rule, applications for T nonimmigrant status remained fee-exempt, and applicants were still permitted to seek a fee waiver for related filings based on their household income, but they could no longer use receipt of a means-tested benefit or proof of financial hardship as reasons for the waiver request. As of the end of the reporting period, there were two preliminary injunctions on the final rule, suspending DHS’s implementation of the rule. In February 2021, the new administration issued an executive order for federal agencies to review actions that fail to promote access to the legal immigration system, including the final rule related to DHS’s fee waiver determination process. While the fee waiver policy is under review, DHS adjudicated fee waiver requests under its 2011 policy, which allows for applicants to qualify under the receipt of means-tested criteria.
In response to the February 2021 executive order, federal agencies also began to review actions related to implementation of the public charge ground for inadmissibility and to identify steps to communicate current public charge policies and changes, if any, to reduce fear and confusion among affected communities. In March 2021, DHS announced the government would no longer defend the public charge final rule issued in August 2019 and implemented in February 2020. In March 2021, a U.S. district court’s order vacating the public charge final rule went into effect. As a result, DHS stopped applying the final rule to all pending and future applications and petitions that otherwise would have been subject to the rule, issued a new final rule removing the regulatory provisions promulgated by the August 2019 rule, and began applying the public charge ground of inadmissibility consistent with its 1999 guidance. Applicants for T nonimmigrant status, T nonimmigrants seeking to adjust status, applicants for U nonimmigrant status, and U nonimmigrants seeking to adjust status are exempt from the public charge ground of inadmissibility.
Additionally, in January 2021, DHS rescinded its 2018 policy regarding notices to appear (NTA). The 2018 policy allowed DHS to generally issue NTAs for individuals who were denied certain immigration options, including individuals who were removable upon denial of T or U nonimmigrant status (after the appeal or motion period ended). As a result of the recission, DHS began issuing only statutory and regulatory NTAs and those required by court order, settlement agreement, or for litigation need.
Advocates again reported increased obstacles to obtaining T nonimmigrant status. For instance, advocates again noted a continuing rise in the number of requests for additional evidence by adjudicators, which tends to increase processing times, and reported increased T nonimmigrant status denials that they believed improperly interpreted relevant statutes and regulations, such as denials based on unlawful acts traffickers compelled victims to commit or narrower interpretations of the physical presence requirement. Advocates also expressed concern with DHS’s August 2020 final rule regarding changes to its fee waiver policy, stating the changes impeded access to the TVPA’s intent for survivors to apply for a waiver when pursuing immigration options. They noted inconsistent fee waiver adjudication and increased denials have caused hardships for survivors trying to access trafficking-specific immigration options, particularly during the pandemic, citing that a large number of survivors – some of whom were facing financial insecurity or experiencing homelessness – used resources meant for housing and other living expenses to pay filing fees. Some survivors chose to delay applying for immigration options due to fear they would not have the means to pay for fees if their fee waiver request was denied.
Advocates continued to voice concern with lengthy and increasing T nonimmigrant status processing times, citing added vulnerabilities for survivors who lack legal status or whose time-limited support services expire, and they called for removal of policies that unnecessarily slow down the adjudication of T nonimmigrant status applications. NGOs voiced concern with the DHS position to not conduct bona fide determinations for T nonimmigrant status applications, which would allow applicants to receive deferred action from removal and employment authorization. They reported this practice has left trafficking victims in vulnerable situations, whether in immigration detention, unable to legally work, or at risk of removal before their T nonimmigrant status application is adjudicated, which would make them ineligible for the status. NGOs called for DHS to improve training for adjudicators that includes detailed guidance on current regulations, examples of trafficking situations, information on a trauma-informed approach, and instructions for drafting victim-centered requests for additional evidence developed with input from survivors and other nongovernmental subject matter experts.
Advocates continued to report an increasing number of foreign national survivors are afraid to report their cases to law enforcement, pursue immigration options, or seek services due to heightened immigration enforcement policies and increased fear of removing victim witnesses from the United States. Advocates again stated that DHS’s November 2018 policy on notice to appear undermined the intent of the TVPA to safeguard victims of trafficking. As a result of the public charge final rule, survivors were afraid to access public assistance programs to which they are entitled and their clients were withdrawing from or choosing not to enroll in programs. NGOs noted the new administration’s actions in 2021 to review, rescind, or not implement prior modifications to certain forms of humanitarian relief were a necessary first step to rebuilding survivors’ trust in the safety of pursuing immigration options.
DHS manages all requests from federal, state, and local law enforcement for Continued Presence, authorizing foreign nationals identified by law enforcement as trafficking victims who may be potential witnesses to remain lawfully and work in the United States during the investigation and prosecution of the crime. In FY 2020, DHS issued Continued Presence to 117 trafficking victims, who were potential witnesses, compared to 125 in FY 2019. DHS granted 56 extensions of Continued Presence, compared to 48 in FY 2019. Effective February 2021, DHS streamlined its process to review Continued Presence after moving the administration of the program to its new center for countering human trafficking, which it established in October 2020 to bring together multiple DHS components to prioritize human trafficking investigations, victim identification, and public outreach. DOJ and DHS convened an interagency working group and held listening sessions with victim service providers and state and local law enforcement members of human trafficking task forces to receive input on improvements to the Continued Presence process.
Advocates reported continued concern with the low number of Continued Presence requests made by law enforcement and noted the heightened importance of this temporary status to access services given increased obstacles to obtaining T nonimmigrant status. NGOs called for targeted training of law enforcement in geographic areas with the greatest disparities between requests for Continued Presence and applications for T nonimmigrant status. They also recommended the government grant federal victim assistance specialists the authority to request Continued Presence. NGOs again reported survivors of sex trafficking were more likely to obtain Continued Presence than survivors of labor trafficking.
Another immigration benefit available to certain human trafficking victims is U nonimmigrant status (commonly referred to as the “U visa”) for victims of certain qualifying crimes, including human trafficking, who are, have been, or are likely to be helpful in the detection, investigation, prosecution, conviction, or sentencing of the qualifying criminal activity and meet other specific eligibility requirements. While DHS has conducted an analysis on a random sample of U nonimmigrant status applications, it is unable to accurately track the number of approved applications based on the specific underlying crimes for which they were issued. Partly in response to litigation, in December 2020, DHS stopped applying its December 2019 policy to reject a U nonimmigrant status application if any field on the form was left blank. (While DHS posted an alert in March 2020 indicating that T nonimmigrant status applications could be rejected if required fields were left blank or incomplete, DHS never implemented a no blank spaces policy for T nonimmigrant status applications.)
Advocates expressed concern with the lack of advance notice of the December 2019 DHS policy not to allow applications with any blank fields to be accepted at the time of filing, citing that DHS communicated it by posting an alert on its website the same day the policy took effect. During the first month of the DHS policy, the rejection rate for U nonimmigrant status reached 97.7 percent. DHS data showed it rejected almost 12,000 U nonimmigrant status petitions from December 30, 2019 to July 2020, or about half of all applications received during that period. In July 2020, an NGO sued DOL, alleging that July 2019 amendments to its policy of certifying applications for U and T nonimmigrant status were issued without following proper administrative procedure. The July 2019 amendments had required DOL to make a referral to criminal law enforcement prior to issuing certifications, among other changes. NGOs reported the amended DOL certification policy created additional barriers to obtaining U or T nonimmigrant status and deterred victims from coming forward. In February 2021, DOL withdrew its July 2019 amendments to its policy for certifying applications for U and T nonimmigrant status.
In July 2020, an NGO sued DOL, alleging that July 2019 amendments to its policy of certifying applications for U and T nonimmigrant status were issued without following proper administrative procedure. The July 2019 amendments had required DOL to make a referral to criminal law enforcement prior to issuing certifications, among other changes. NGOs reported the amended DOL certification policy created additional barriers to obtaining U or T nonimmigrant status and deterred victims from coming forward. In February 2021, DOL withdrew its July 2019 amendments to its policy for certifying applications for U and T nonimmigrant status.
To enhance protections for unaccompanied children and combat child trafficking, DHS and HHS share responsibility for the processing, treatment, and placement of unaccompanied children. This includes a screening by DHS within 48 hours of apprehension, transfer of certain unaccompanied children to HHS custody within 72 hours, and prompt placement by HHS in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child. When foreign national children are placed in the care and custody of HHS, they are screened for human trafficking. The TVPA also requires any federal, state, or local official with information on a foreign national minor who may have experienced human trafficking to refer those cases to HHS to assess whether the minor is eligible for services to the same extent as a refugee. When appropriate, HHS makes a determination of eligibility for benefits and services, which may include long-term assistance. In FY 2020, HHS assisted 347 foreign national child victims of trafficking, including 142 new enrollments, through its Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program, compared to 231 foreign national child victims of trafficking, including 70 new enrollments in FY 2019. (The FY 2019 number of victims assisted (231) and number of new enrollments (70) represent corrections to the numbers cited last year (228 and 69, respectively.) This program requires states to provide such child victims with the same assistance, care, and services available to foster children.
DHS is required to screen certain individuals for human trafficking, including unaccompanied children and some detained individuals. In cases where potential victims were identified, DHS referred cases to law enforcement for further investigation. In the case of foreign national adults apprehended, interdicted, or in detention pending removal from the United States, DHS does not mandate screening of such individuals for trafficking indicators. The government issued an order in March 2020 under Title 42 of the U.S. Code that authorized the government to suspend the entry of migrants arriving at U.S. land ports of entry through Canada and Mexico who would be subject to immigration processing. As a result of the Title 42 order related to the pandemic, the government began expelling migrants, including unaccompanied children. Such unaccompanied children were held in DHS custody for various lengths of time. While Title 8 of the U.S. Code requires the government to screen unaccompanied children and follow certain procedures to place the children in the least restrictive setting in the best interest of the child to combat child trafficking, unaccompanied children were processed and expelled pursuant to the Title 42 order and not Title 8. In February 2021, the government announced that it was suspending the expulsion of unaccompanied children pursuant to the order, and such children were thereafter processed under Title 8. From March to November 2020, DHS detained at least 660 unaccompanied children in hotels, where they were largely restricted from leaving their room, for various lengths of time – some for up to 38 days – when the TVPA requires a transfer to HHS custody within 72 hours. During the first part of 2021, DHS worked with HHS to increase HHS capacity to accept arriving children, including increasing transportation capacity, co-locating personnel to help with case management and shelter management, and creating a new interagency coordination body. During the reporting period, the government continued not to mandate human trafficking screening for all foreign national adults in immigration detention or custody. In some cases, migrants were expelled to a country where they were not a citizen and did not speak the language, heightening their vulnerability to human trafficking. DHS and DOJ did not establish law enforcement victim screening protocols for human trafficking cases, as required by laws enacted prior to the reporting period. HHS developed a human trafficking screening tool for domestic violence shelters and programs.
A center that provides legal services for children noted DHS’s screening mechanisms for unaccompanied children have often failed to identify child trafficking cases. One NGO reported that between March and November, the government expelled at least 13,000 unaccompanied children. Advocates called for a study on the effect of the government’s recent policies around unaccompanied children on their trauma and vulnerability to human trafficking. NGOs noted that changes limiting asylum eligibility and preventing people from applying have placed trafficking survivors at increased risk of violence and trauma, particularly those fleeing a trafficking situation involving family members, intimate partners, or gangs. Advocates also reported trafficking survivors are increasingly held in immigration detention, which limits their access to critical services needed to begin recovering from their trauma and experience and keeps them in unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
The U.S. government continued to provide and fund training to federal, state, local, and tribal officials, as well as to NGO service providers and health and human service providers, to encourage more consistent application of victim-centered, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive approaches in all phases of victim identification, assistance, recovery, and participation in the criminal justice process. In FY 2020, HHS delivered 91 training and technical assistance activities to more than 50,000 federal grantees and health and human service professionals, including more than 46,000 people who completed its online training. In FY 2020, DOJ awarded $3.6 million in funding under two contracts to deliver training and technical assistance to grantees and to organizations building their capacity to respond to human trafficking victims. DOJ’s specialized training and technical assistance providers assisted organizations in strengthening their anti-trafficking responses related to housing, employment, legal services, trauma-informed care, courts, and identifying labor trafficking victims.
Advocates continued to report that survivors with criminal records resulting from unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit often remain excluded from employment, housing, and higher education; are ineligible for government programs; and face difficulties meeting needs essential to their safety and recovery. Advocates again called for better trafficking screening of individuals with disabilities to improve the identification of potential victims. Advocates noted federal efforts around addressing human trafficking in the child welfare system focused almost exclusively on child sex trafficking and called for equal efforts to address child labor trafficking within the system.
The U.S. government decreased efforts to prevent trafficking. In October 2020, the government issued and began to implement a comprehensive three-year national action plan to combat human trafficking. Federal agencies conducted numerous educational and training activities for their own personnel, state, local, and tribal officials, and other stakeholders. To enhance transparency and stakeholder input, the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons reported on agency accomplishments and future efforts and again invited members of the presidentially appointed survivor advisory council, as well as members of the presidentially appointed public-private partnership advisory council, to join its meeting. However, the government did not take sufficient measures to address the factors, government policies, and conditions that increase historically marginalized communities’ risk to human trafficking, such as the exclusion of domestic and agricultural workers from legal worker protections. The government repealed housing regulations meant to correct discriminatory housing practices and past harms, and it rolled back legal protections for LGBTQI+ persons; advocates noted these actions contributed to the systemic marginalization and vulnerability of communities overrepresented among trafficking victims and disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The government again did not increase efforts to prevent human trafficking in its employment-based and other nonimmigrant visa programs or to hold employers and their agents, including labor recruiters, accountable for practices known to lead to human trafficking. In addition, it implemented policies that reduced its ability to oversee and enforce worker protections in these programs, which made it even harder for workers to protect themselves from an abusive employer or to access a healthy and safe workplace during the pandemic because they were forced to continue working or feared losing their job and immigration status.
The government continued public outreach measures on the causes and consequences of human trafficking and continued efforts to increase victim identification among vulnerable populations and sectors and to seek and incorporate survivor input into policies and programs. HHS continued to fund an NGO to operate the national human trafficking hotline. In FY 2020, the hotline received 195,100 calls, texts, chats, online tips, and emails, identified 11,193 potential human trafficking cases, and provided 8,701 referrals to potential victims. In response to the pandemic, the hotline transitioned to fully remote operations with no disruption in services. The number of emergency trafficking cases handled by the hotline increased by more than 40 percent in the month following shelter-in-place orders compared to the prior month. More than 13,000 signals, which includes calls, texts, and web chats, came from individuals who identified themselves as potential victims of trafficking seeking help, with calls being the most common method of communication. The U.S. government operated other tip lines that received calls or messages related to suspected human trafficking cases. U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide continued to provide the “Know Your Rights” pamphlet to visa applicants in multiple languages for temporary work and exchange visitor categories and play a related video in certain consular waiting rooms to help visa applicants better understand their rights and raise awareness of human trafficking. In FY 2020, the pamphlet generated 113 signals to the national hotline, a decrease from 156 calls generated in FY 2019.
In response to an increased risk of encountering traffickers online, DHS partnered with a national NGO to run social media ads directing people to internet safety resources. HHS established a grant program on creating and implementing strategies to deliver prevention education and skills-based training to school communities. For the fourth year, HHS continued its leadership academy composed of survivors and anti-trafficking professionals that developed recommendations for addressing risk factors among migrant families to labor trafficking. The HHS advisory committee on child sex trafficking, composed of trafficking survivors and other subject matter experts, published a report on best practices and recommendations for states. The Department of Education supported human trafficking prevention awareness for schools, including by launching a webpage dedicated to human trafficking; releasing the second edition of its guide for school communities on how to use individualized interventions for students who have experienced human trafficking and suggested steps for reintegrating such students into educational environments; and releasing a brief about integrating school-based prevention and intervention strategies to combat domestic child sex trafficking. The Department of Transportation (DOT) and DHS continued to train aviation personnel and, in FY 2020, formed 27 new partnerships with airlines, airports, and aviation industry organizations for a total of 59 partners. During the reporting period, DOT’s initiative of transportation leaders aligned against human trafficking secured 55 pledges across the transportation sector for a total of 533 partners, with a commitment to train their employees and raise public awareness. DOT also awarded the first annual $50,000 grant to incentivize the development of innovative solutions that increase human trafficking prevention efforts among transportation stakeholders. Domestically, DOJ trained more than 11,000 people through its public online training series on trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches to human trafficking, and DOJ grantees reported providing training to 72,326 anti-trafficking partners and stakeholders. DOJ, DHS, and State, along with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, consulted with six tech companies to develop public service announcements to prevent and respond to online exploitation, including child sex trafficking, during the pandemic. HHS and DOJ held national listening sessions on preventing and responding to child trafficking during the pandemic. In FY 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) participated in 120 outreach events that addressed human trafficking, reaching 12,020 individuals, and continued efforts to increase public awareness about human trafficking with its human trafficking resource guide. DOL launched a labor trafficking awareness campaign that highlighted the effect of the pandemic on risk factors, indicators, and identification challenges. DOL also held a national online dialogue for stakeholders to provide ideas and comments on DOL’s efforts to combat labor trafficking. Treasury held bilateral banking dialogues with foreign partners and financial institutions to discuss financial trends, typologies, and how financial tools can help combat human trafficking. Congress made available $92 million in FY 2020 foreign assistance resources to State and the U.S. Agency for International Development to support international anti-trafficking initiatives in countries in every region of the world.
NGOs noted human trafficking prevention efforts must address the ways systemic exploitation of Black and Brown communities heighten their vulnerability to human trafficking, especially given the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on their health, economic stability, and safety. For instance, workers in domestic and agricultural sectors, performing duties historically performed by people who were enslaved, people who were formerly enslaved, and their descendants, were and remained specifically excluded from legal worker protections under federal law. Their lack of legal protections combined with the heightened isolation, economic uncertainty, and health risks due to COVID-19 has increased their risk of human trafficking. Despite the pandemic exacerbating housing instability for many individuals, which is a vulnerability traffickers often target, the government repealed regulations meant to correct and prevent discriminatory housing practices. In addition, advocates noted the government’s removal of protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by federally funded health and welfare programs, efforts to revise the definition of sex in federal laws to exclude LGBTQI+ persons, and elimination of data collection requirements on LGBTQI+ youth in foster care during the reporting period furthered the LGBTQI+ community’s marginalization and heightened their risk to human trafficking. Advocates continued to call for a more comprehensive and proactive approach to address the factors and conditions that increase vulnerabilities, such as creating economic opportunities to empower communities at higher risk for human trafficking and providing critical support services that human traffickers might otherwise offer.
DOL, DHS, and State screen and approve employers and workers for temporary foreign worker programs to ensure compliance with program requirements, including worker protections. To reduce workers’ vulnerability to exploitation, including human trafficking, the United States bars employers participating in these programs or their agents (whether or not those agents or others in the recruitment chain are in contractual privity with the employer or a recruiter, whether or not located in the United States, and whether or not such agents are governmental or non-governmental entities) from seeking or receiving payments from workers for any activities related to obtaining labor certification or employment. These payments include job placement and recruitment fees, and salary and wage deductions, and the United States requires that the terms of employment be disclosed. DOL seeks to ensure employer compliance through audits and investigations and does not accept temporary labor certification applications if the employer discloses it charges a prohibited fee to the worker. State waived interviews for certain first-time H-2 visa applicants to avoid labor shortages in U.S. supply chains due to the pandemic. The interview waivers reduced the government’s ability to verbally ensure applicants know their rights under the program and to detect potential cases of fraud that increase an applicant’s vulnerability to human trafficking. Workers received the “Know Your Rights” pamphlet along with their passport containing an issued visa rather than prior to visa approval. In April 2020, DHS issued a temporary final rule allowing H-2A agricultural employers with the flexibility to immediately hire workers who held H-2A status at the time of the petition and extended workers’ maximum allowable period of stay. DHS issued a similar rule for the H-2B non-agricultural program in May 2020 before a June executive action froze State’s issuance of new H-2B visas.
In September 2020, the U.S. and Guatemalan governments expanded an agreement that required Guatemala to begin performing labor recruitment directly or to create and maintain a registered foreign labor recruiter-monitoring program for the H-2A program to include the H-2B program.
Advocates again reported weak oversight of employment-based and other nonimmigrant visa programs and documented human trafficking cases involving workers in the United States on these programs. From April 1 to September 30, 2020, the number of cases reported to the national human trafficking hotline involving a potential victim in H-2A status more than doubled compared to the previous six months. Advocates continued to call for enhanced protections for workers in temporary worker programs, including regulatory changes to uncouple employment visas from an employer or sponsor, and to protect individuals in certain temporary worker programs to the same extent as other workers. NGOs continued to call for increased transparency and accountability for temporary worker programs and for agencies to develop a more accessible system to share visa applications and job-related information with workers in real time, including the names of employer petitioners. NGOs noted concern that the DHS temporary final rules regarding the H-2 programs exacerbate workers’ vulnerability to exploitation, including human trafficking, by granting employers more control over workers’ employment situation. NGOs and news outlets reported employers using threats of job loss, blacklisting, and deportation if workers left the worksite or housing facility to receive testing or medical treatment for COVID-19, despite the high rates of infection in the food and agricultural sectors. One NGO expressed concern with State’s policy to waive interviews for certain first-time H-2 visa applicants because such interviews provided a critical layer of review for fraud concerns and allowed State to confirm workers understood their rights.
Formal and informal recruiters, labor contractors, and agents continued to charge workers prohibited fees, and the government’s enforcement of the ban on worker-paid recruitment fees and other prohibited practices meant to prevent workers from experiencing situations of heightened risk to human trafficking remained weak. H-2A employers increasingly relied on labor contractors to shield themselves from liability for any violations, including by intentionally remaining uninformed about the recruitment process and the treatment or conditions of workers outside of work hours, including housing conditions and wage payments. In August 2020, H-2A workers filed a class action lawsuit against a farm labor contractor alleging illegal wage deductions, underpayment of wages in violation of written contracts and the Fair Labor Standards Act, worker-paid recruitment fees, and threats of blacklisting and deportation. As of the close of the reporting period, the farm labor contractor continued to hold a farm labor contractor certification of registration under the Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act.
Advocates called on the government to increase enforcement of H-2 program requirements and hold accountable employers and their agents who have exploited workers and violated visa program regulations. They also recommended the government create a public registry of certified labor recruiters and implement a policy that incentivizes workers to report experiencing prohibited employment or recruitment practices, instead of denying them a visa.
State continued its oversight of the Exchange Visitor Program (EVP, commonly referred to as the “J-1 visa”), which includes among others the Summer Work Travel, Camp Counselor, Intern, and Au Pair programs. State continued to monitor exchange visitors to help safeguard their health, safety, and welfare and to identify and investigate program fraud and abuse, and it enhanced its virtual monitoring capabilities. State conducted outreach throughout 2020 to raise program sponsors’ awareness of their administrative oversight and reporting obligations to State with respect to the health, safety, and welfare of exchange visitors. State requires EVP sponsors to provide all exchange visitors with the “Know Your Rights” pamphlet during orientation sessions. State continued to liaise and collaborate with law enforcement on criminal investigations relating to the EVP in 2020.
Advocates continued to report the need for additional steps to reduce the risks of exploitation in some EVP categories, noting concerns with fraudulent recruitment practices, exorbitant program fees, and exploitative work conditions. A news report featuring interviews with former and current EVP au pairs detailed a lack of oversight of sponsors and families, including insufficient corrective action and frequent sponsor non-compliance with the program’s reporting requirements. In June 2020, two former EVP au pairs sued their former sponsor agency and host family, claiming the family subjected them to forced labor. State is not party to the lawsuit. Two groups of international students each separately sued an EVP student intern program sponsor alleging forced labor, among other offenses. Advocates called for increased protections for EVP exchange visitors under U.S. labor and employment laws with oversight by DOL, more accountability of sponsors and participating employers, and greater transparency about employers and occupations.
State and the U.S. Mission to the UN continued to implement their respective domestic worker In-person Registration Programs for A-3 and G-5 visa holders employed by foreign mission and international organization personnel in the United States. Due to the pandemic, the programs temporarily transitioned to phone and video registrations. During the reporting period, State found the continued presence in the United States of an international organization employee to be “undesirable” pursuant to the law, such that if she did not depart the United States by a certain date she would no longer be entitled to the benefits accorded to employees of designated international organizations under U.S. law, including the immigration benefit of G nonimmigrant status. This was following an investigation into allegations including submission of a fraudulent labor contract and participation in a scheme to underpay and overwork a domestic worker in violation of contract terms. State also asked a foreign government to waive immunity of a foreign mission member following an investigation into allegations including fraud in foreign labor contracting and collection of data. State subsequently required the departure of the foreign mission member from the United States.
During the reporting period, lawsuits in Colorado, Georgia, Texas, and California remained pending against privately owned and operated detention facilities contracted by DHS. These lawsuits allege the contractors forced immigration detainees to work in violation of the TVPA during their federal immigration detention. DHS is not party to the lawsuits, nor are any of its component agencies. In January 2021, a U.S. court of appeals ruled in one of these cases the TVPA applies to immigration detention facilities.
Advocates asserted that immigration detainee labor and convict labor perpetuate slavery and its legacy of racial injustice. They called for the government to end its use of labor in immigrant detention facilities, whether government-operated or operated through contracts with private entities, as these immigration detainees have not been convicted of a crime. They also called for the government to amend the U.S. Constitution to eliminate the exception to the Thirteenth Amendment that allows for slavery or involuntary servitude as punishment for those convicted of a crime. NGOs and media reported prisons and detention facilities threatened inmates or detainees with disciplinary action if they refused to work due to COVID-19.
Civil enforcement of federal laws continued to be a significant component of the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. DOL investigated complaints and conducted targeted civil labor investigations involving workers in industries and sectors known to be vulnerable to labor trafficking. Where appropriate, DOL refers these cases for criminal investigation. In FY 2020, DOL continued such enforcement activities in industries including agriculture, landscaping, hospitality, seafood processing, and reforestation. In FY 2020, DOL made 14 referrals to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies or task forces and referred six H visa cases to DOL’s inspector general regarding allegations of human trafficking. Additionally, one criminal law enforcement agency referred a case to DOL, four criminal agencies requested DOL assistance, and 10 such agencies requested DOL’s case file information. The EEOC enforces federal employment discrimination statutes, and it continued to investigate civil charges on behalf of and seek compensation for victims of trafficking during the reporting period. In FY 2020, the EEOC received three new charges of discrimination linked to human trafficking compared to six in FY 2019. For the one charge of discrimination the EEOC resolved in FY 2020, the EEOC did not recover monetary relief, compared to $56,000 in monetary benefits it recovered in resolution of charges in FY 2019. In August 2020, the EEOC settled a lawsuit with national origin and race claims against U.S.-based employers in Washington who hired Thai farm workers through a farm labor contractor. In 2016, a federal court entered a default judgment against the farm labor contractor and ordered damages to the workers who were subjected to “an unrelenting sense of imprisonment.” The settlement with the farms provided for $325,000 to be distributed among 105 workers and required the employers, who had denied liability for the farm labor contractors’ actions, to institute accountability measures over their contractors, training, review of policies and procedures, and reporting of violations. As of September 30, 2020, the EEOC had 13 pending charges linked to human trafficking.
NGOs stated DOL’s investigative divisions continued to be significantly underfunded and its work to protect workers underprioritized, which inhibit meaningful or systematic enforcement of labor laws and detection of forced labor in industry supply chains. One NGO report released in December 2020 found more than 70 percent of farm investigations conducted by DOL uncovered violations, but there was only a one percent chance a farm would be investigated by DOL. NGOs continued to call for more resources to be allocated to DOL to enhance efforts to identify labor trafficking cases.
Federal law also allows a trafficking victim to independently file a civil cause of action, and there were cases in which individuals filed and successfully pursued civil causes of action during the reporting period.
The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, including by prosecuting individuals for sex trafficking who pay or attempt to pay for commercial sex involving children. In May 2020, the government established an ad hoc working group to examine the role of demand reduction in preventing human trafficking. The working group held a listening session with survivors in December 2020. The government provided anti-trafficking training to its diplomats.
Advocates called for greater efforts to address demand, including increased education and awareness, and called for these efforts to encompass sex trafficking and labor trafficking. One NGO called for DOJ to increase efforts to pursue the prosecution of those who knowingly purchase a commercial sex act with a trafficking victim, as well as financial penalties and mandatory restitution.
The government made efforts to reduce the demand for participation in extraterritorial sexual exploitation and abuse (commonly referred to as “international sex tourism”) by its citizens, including by proactively investigating allegations of child sexual exploitation crimes perpetrated overseas by U.S. citizens and partnering with foreign law enforcement counterparts to share information regarding international travel of registered child sex offenders. At least three defendants were convicted federally in FY 2020 of engaging in extraterritorial child sexual exploitation and abuse, compared to 11 in the previous reporting period. Offenders who abuse children abroad may have been prosecuted under other statutes, and prosecutions based on other statutes are not reflected in this statistic.
DOJ and other federal law enforcement agencies received zero allegations of forced labor or recruitment fees required of third-country nationals working on certain U.S. government contracts abroad. DOJ initiated zero federal criminal prosecutions of employers or labor contractors for such violations in connection with U.S. government contracts abroad in FY 2020 and zero prosecutions for fraud in foreign labor contracting.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) notified agencies’ procurement offices three times of specific concerns regarding human trafficking risks in certain supply chains. Additionally, OMB held one call to coordinate efforts and share ideas among designated procurement officials for how to better protect agencies’ supply chains from being connected to human trafficking. Despite a 2019 directive for certain agencies to designate these points of contact, not all had done so by the end of the reporting period. In FY 2020, 1,050 federal employees completed human trafficking training for the acquisition workforce. As stated in the Prosecution section above, in FY 2020, DoD reported investigating 112 cases related to forced labor, compared to 13 cases in FY 2019. DoD took action against noncompliant employers and labor contractors resulting in one corrective action report, 50 local corrective actions, 48 other actions (including assisting DoD commands to achieve resolution), and DoD took no action in 13 cases. Where appropriate, DoD refers these cases for criminal investigation or pursues criminal investigations. DoD delivered anti-trafficking messaging and materials to more than 2,500 foreign workers, who had worked on U.S. bases in Afghanistan and were departing the country due to the drawdown, and interviewed more than 1,400 such workers to ensure they did not experience human trafficking on the base. DHS debarred one entity and two individuals convicted of engaging in human trafficking from conducting business with the federal government.
The government increased efforts to prevent human trafficking in U.S. private sector supply chains. DHS continued to enforce the law that prohibits the importation of goods mined, produced, or manufactured, wholly or in part, under forced labor conditions, including forced child labor. In accordance with law, the government established a task force to monitor enforcement of this law. DHS received 50 allegations and issued 16 Withhold Release Orders within the reporting period for shipments of goods where information reasonably indicated that merchandise within the purview of Title 19 U.S. Code section 1307 is being, or is likely to be, imported into the United States, resulting in the detention of 606 shipments worth approximately $90 million, compared to 53 allegations and six Withhold Release Orders within the previous reporting period. DHS collected $575,000 in civil penalties for violations of U.S. trade law regarding goods produced with forced labor. The new DHS center for countering human trafficking supported and coordinated the initiation of five criminal investigations of individuals and entities that may be benefitting from goods produced using forced labor overseas, including those importing high-demand goods due to the pandemic.
The government took a series of measures to prevent U.S. businesses and consumers from interacting with or purchasing from entities engaged in forced labor and other human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and beyond, including issuing a business advisory, imposing export controls, and issuing sanctions against officials and entities. The U.S. government, led by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, engaged with the governments of Canada and Mexico to ensure implementation of a provision in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement that entered into force in July 2020 requiring all three countries to prohibit the importation of goods produced wholly or in part with forced labor. DOJ convened an interagency task force that, after consulting external stakeholders, submitted to Congress a report that examined the United States government’s legal and regulatory authorities to address forced labor in fishing in international waters and the legal and jurisdictional challenges preventing it from acting effectively, and made recommendations to address gaps in the government’s legal and regulatory framework. DOL updated and added more than 50 examples of promising practices to its mobile application that provides companies and industry groups with guidance on how to identify risks of forced and child labor in their supply chains and mitigate or remediate abuses.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommended DHS better communicate to stakeholders the types of information that could help with forced labor cases related to seafood and other goods, as appropriate. GAO also recommended DHS better communicate information about its modification and revocation process for Withhold Release Orders. NGOs urged DHS to increase enforcement of its prohibition on the importation of goods produced with forced labor, work with DOJ to prosecute violators, and increase transparency of its processes so NGOs and unions can monitor workers’ conditions. NGOs recommended OMB issue guidance requiring agencies to conduct risk assessments to identify contracts providing goods from high-risk regions or sectors and recommended greater transparency of agencies’ implementation of the federal acquisition regulation on human trafficking.
DOJ published an issue of its journal on federal law and practice dedicated to the topics of missing or murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives, which included discussions on identifying and preventing human trafficking. As part of the task force’s work, HHS’s operating division released a framework for missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives in October 2020 to guide its programs for those communities. In FY 2020, HHS funded a new grant program in six locations to strengthen the response to victims of human trafficking in American Indian and Alaska Native communities. Survivors and anti-trafficking professionals who identify as Native American comprised HHS’s fifth class of its leadership academy, which developed recommendations for using cultural practices and traditions to prevent human trafficking among Native youth. HHS continued to offer online training to educate health care providers serving American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders regarding human trafficking and its effect on their communities, and 605 people completed the course during the reporting period. In FY 2020, HHS funded a new demonstration grant program to provide comprehensive case management services for indigenous survivors of human trafficking in Alaska, Hawaii, Minnesota, North Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin. DOJ awarded more than $39 million to tribal governments under its program to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking, and stalking.
Advocates from indigenous communities and NGOs highlighted the vulnerabilities created by systemic oppression, continued underfunding, and historical trauma that have led to significant rates of human trafficking among their communities. They recommended increased data collection and monitoring, trauma-informed cultural humility training for law enforcement and service providers, and more culturally appropriate and community-specific support and early intervention services.
U.S. INSULAR AREAS
Trafficking in persons occurs in the U.S. insular areas, including American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).
In Puerto Rico, DOJ created a working group composed of federal and state law enforcement agencies, NGOs, and higher learning institutions to assess the threat of and propose measures to protect women against violence, including human trafficking. In Guam and CNMI, members of DOJ-led human trafficking task forces continued to engage with community partners to provide victim services, train law enforcement, and share strategies for improving victim identification. DOJ also continued to advance an initiative that enhances coordination with stakeholders in the Pacific Region on victim services, law enforcement responses, training, community outreach, and prevention programs. DOJ and DHS continued to participate, along with local authorities in Puerto Rico, in the crimes against children task force. To increase capacity for DHS to connect victims in Puerto Rico and USVI involved in investigations with appropriate services, DHS identified anti-trafficking NGOs in the continental United States willing to accept victims identified in these territories. In addition, DHS provided training on trauma-informed and victim-centered investigations for its San Juan field office.
HHS provided comprehensive case management services to foreign national victims of trafficking identified in American Samoa, Guam, CNMI, Puerto Rico, and USVI, and two DOJ grantees provided comprehensive and legal services to victims of all forms of trafficking in CNMI during the reporting period. HHS provided technical assistance on human trafficking to government and non-government stakeholders in Guam, with virtual participation including NGOs from other Pacific Island and Micronesian communities.
As part of the prosecution statistics previously mentioned, DOJ filed one new human trafficking case in CNMI within the reporting period. Authorities pursued related non-trafficking charges in one federal case in CNMI that involved elements of human trafficking, including victims forced to work to repay debts incurred from recruitment fees, withholding of wages, forced overtime, confiscation of travel documents, verbal abuse, and threats of deportation and physical harm, in addition to other criminal and civil actions related to the labor scheme during prior reporting periods.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign national victims in the United States, and traffickers exploit victims from the United States abroad. Human trafficking cases have been reported in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. Traffickers compel victims to engage in commercial sex and to work in both legal and illicit industries and sectors, including in hospitality, traveling sales crews, agriculture, janitorial services, construction, landscaping, restaurants, factories, care for persons with disabilities, salon services, massage parlors, retail, fairs and carnivals, peddling and begging, drug smuggling and distribution, religious institutions, child care, and domestic work. Individuals who entered the United States with and without legal status have been identified as trafficking victims. Victims originate from almost every region of the world; the top three countries of origin of victims identified by federally funded providers in FY 2020 were the United States, Mexico, and Honduras. Individuals in the United States vulnerable to human trafficking include: children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, including foster care; runaway and homeless youth; unaccompanied children; individuals seeking asylum; American Indians and Alaska Natives, particularly women and girls; individuals with substance use issues; migrant laborers, including undocumented workers and participants in visa programs for temporary workers; foreign national domestic workers in diplomatic households; persons with limited English proficiency; persons with disabilities; LGBTQI+ persons; and victims of intimate partner violence or domestic violence. Some U.S. citizens engage in extraterritorial child sexual exploitation and abuse in foreign countries. NGOs reported an increase in traffickers’ use of the internet to recruit and advertise victims during the pandemic. NGOs also noted a growing trend of misinformation about human trafficking spreading throughout communities and through social media, which they reported negatively affected anti-trafficking efforts by overburdening law enforcement and victim service providers with unactionable, false information.