2021 TIP Report: U.S. Tier One Ranking Questioned

WASHINGTON — While releasing the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report last Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that “we’ve got to acknowledge our own shortcomings.”

To its credit, the TIP Report does just that, with a detailed description of how the United States has prosecuted fewer traffickers, decreased protection for survivors, reduced efforts to prevent trafficking, and enforced harmful policies that increased vulnerability and deterred many victims from seeking help.

However, the report concludes the U.S. merits a Tier 1 ranking, the highest rating, saying “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.”

The Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking questions this determination given that he U.S. fails to meet the minimum standards established by the Trafficking Victims Protect Act for a Tier 1 ranking.

The report does note areas of progress, including increased action to prevent goods tainted by forced labor from being imported into the United States and increasing the number of T-visas granted to immigrant trafficking victims so they could remain in the country.

However, the report also catalogues immigration-related actions by the federal government that led to longer delays in granting T-visas and the deportation of trafficking victims. The report also notes that trafficking victims are being charged with crimes that they were forced to commit by their traffickers. In this regard, the U.S.  failed to create a legally mandated victim-centered protocol to instruct law enforcement agents about how they should treat trafficking survivors.

This year’s report highlights forced labor at the hands of foreign governments, particularly China. The report acknowledges complaints of forced labor inside American prisons and immigrant detention centers as well. The report notes that racial and gender inequities in the U.S. need to be addressed as part of a comprehensive trafficking prevention strategy, but that some current U.S. enforcement activities actually have negative impacts on communities of color.

The review period for the TIP report primarily covers  the final year of the Trump Administration. The report indicates that some of the most harmful immigration policies that increase vulnerability to trafficking have been reversed by the Biden-Harris Administration.

ATEST urges the Biden-Harris Administration in the coming year to implement our recommendations in the ATEST Presidential Agenda report and Congress to adopt our recommendations to strengthen the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. These include paying greater attention to forced labor, enacting stronger protections for domestic workers and whistleblowers who report trafficking violations, increased effort to prevent trafficking in global supply chains and protect immigrant workers, and more thorough integration of anti-trafficking strategies into foreign assistance. We also look forward to working with the Department of State and other agencies to fulfill its commitment to “integrate racial equity more intentionally into the U.S. anti-trafficking response,” a key component to preventing trafficking and protecting survivors. These actions will help to restore America’s anti-trafficking response to Tier 1 caliber.

Over the years, the United States has been a global leader in combating human trafficking, and the TIP Report has been a critical tool to encourage governments to take stronger action. The credibility of the report is the key to its effectiveness. That credibility is challenged when shortcomings are acknowledged but accountability for those shortcomings is not evident in a nation’s tier ranking.