ATEST Challenges Tier 1 Ranking for U.S. in 2020 TIP Report

WASHINGTON – The 2020 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, released Thursday, marks the 20th time the U.S. State Department has ranked how well the world’s governments are responding to forced labor and human trafficking and the 10th year the U.S. government has ranked itself.

Under a new statutory provision of TVPRA of 2018 it is the first time the report was required to follow stricter procedures mandated by Congress to rank countries based on substantive results and progress, rather than rhetoric by public officials or promises of future action.

The Tier 1 ranking for the United States in the 2020 report does not comply with the new standards. The U.S. does not fully meet the minimum standards established by Congress in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act to merit Tier 1 status, the highest possible ranking. The report itself indicates the U.S. falls short in two of the three key areas of tier ranking evaluation:

  • Prosecution: The report indicates that in the U.S. “the number of trafficking prosecutions decreased for the second year in a row, and the number of convictions decreased.”
  • Protection: The report indicates that the U.S. government “has decreased protection efforts” for trafficking victims and survivors.

The TIP Report is used around the world as a benchmark reference tool, and for two decades it has helped establish American leadership in the global effort to end human trafficking. However, the report is only useful if all of its tier rankings are credible. The United States’ top tier ranking of itself, despite admitted decreases in the prosecution of perpetrators and the protection of trafficked individuals, undermines the nation’s credibility as a leader in the anti-trafficking movement at large.

ATEST, in partnership with other coalitions and organizations, submitted detailed comments to the State Department in early 2020 as this year’s tier rankings were being formulated about alarming declines in anti-trafficking efforts, including policy decisions that lead to increased trafficking among vulnerable populations. The TIP Report country narrative for the U.S. includes extensive references to many of these concerns, raising questions about how a nation with increasingly flawed anti-trafficking responses could still merit a Tier 1 ranking.

The specific problem areas identified by ATEST include:

  • The U.S. lacks transparency because the Attorney General’s Report to Congress and Assessment of U.S. Government Activities to Combat Human Trafficking has not been submitted for the past two years.
  • The U.S. government must increase investigation and prosecution of labor trafficking cases.
  • The U.S. government must increase efforts to secure criminal restitution in all human trafficking cases.
  • The Department of Justice (DOJ) must restore access to the full range of critical legal services for survivors and must fully expend trafficking victim services appropriations mandated by Congress.
  • The U.S. government must strengthen, rather than erode, protections for immigrants, including immigrant survivors of human trafficking. Needed reform areas include:
    • DOJ limits on asylum and immigration courts
    • Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policies that restrict access to immigration relief, increase abuse and exploitation of immigrants, and clearly demonstrate a failure of the U.S. to comply with international and U.S. standards for the protection of victims
    • Increased barriers to obtaining T Visas in the form of increasingly frequent requests for evidence (RFEs), denials that contravene legal standards, and delays in adjudications
    • Obstacles to securing immigration relief through increased denials of fee waivers and revisions for adjudicating requests for fee waivers
    • United States Citizenship and Immigration (USCIS) Public Charge policy, which harms human trafficking survivors
    • DHS mass detention of immigrants, which harms immigrants overall, including human trafficking survivors
    • The U.S. government’s continuing failure to provide automatic Continued Presence status to human trafficking survivors
    • DHS complicity in labor trafficking, including forced labor, of immigrants inside private detention facilities
    • The under-regulated U.S. Guest Worker Visa Programs, which, as designed, allow labor trafficking to thrive
  • The U.S. government must strengthen protections for survivors with disabilities
  • The U.S. government has taken several actions to remove protections for LGBTQ individuals
  • The U.S. has a weak social safety net, which exacerbates trafficking vulnerability and creates the potential for survivor re-trafficking
  • Trafficking prevention strategies must go beyond a criminal justice-focused approach

Recommendations:

  • Congress traditionally invites the State Department to testify following the release of the annual TIP Report. This year, we urge members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee to inquire specifically during these hearings about the Tier 1 ranking for the United States and how it complies with provisions of the TIP Report Integrity Act. With so many countries receiving tier ranking upgrades this year — including an upgrade for Saudi Arabia — we urge Congress to exercise its oversight responsibility over the TIP Report tier ranking process. As prosecutions for forced labor globally remain minimal and incidences continue to rise, updgrading 22 countries in the 2020 TIP Report should raise serious questions.
  • We urge the House and Senate Judiciary Committees to hold hearings with American law enforcement officials about the decrease in the prosecution and conviction of trafficking perpetrators in the U.S., why labor trafficking is prosecuted less often than sex trafficking, and how to ensure victims are not incarcerated for crimes that they were forced by their traffickers to commit.
  • The U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security have failed to develop legislatively-mandated protocols for law enforcement agencies to treat trafficked individuals as victims and not as criminals. The deadline to develop the protocols was two years ago. We urge these agencies to complete this work. We urge congressional oversight committees to inquire why these protocols are overdue and when they will be completed. ATEST is committed to supporting the work of DOJ and DHS in developing victim-centered protocols to ensure that all survivors of human trafficking can access meaninfgul justice and receive holistic, empowering services.

During the release of the 2020 TIP Report, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called human trafficking a “truly wicked act.” Ambassador to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons John Cotton Richmond said “governments must take bold action to bring the reforms that are necessary.”

Given the U.S. position of leadership in the anti-trafficking movement, ATEST believes that we must be even more rigorous internally. That is the only way to credibly hold other nations to account for their own lapses in developing meaningful victim-centered anti-trafficking policies.


ATEST is a U.S. based coalition that advocates for solutions to prevent and end all forms of human trafficking and modern slavery around the world. We advocate for lasting solutions to prevent labor and sex trafficking, hold perpetrators accountable, ensure justice for victims and empower survivors with tools for recovery. Our collective experience implementing programs at home and abroad provides our coalition an unparalleled breadth and depth of expertise.  ATEST works as a collective in partnership with civil society, governments, and businesses to create fundamental change of the accepted norms that enable slavery and trafficking to persist around the world — from strengthening laws and business standards to building public will.

Current ATEST members include Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), Free the Slaves, Human Trafficking Institute, National Network for Youth (NN4Y), Polaris, Safe Horizon, Solidarity Center, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, United Way Worldwide, Verite, and Vital Voices Global Partnership.

 

Media contact: Terry FitzPatrick | 571-282-9913 | terry.fitzpatrick@freetheslaves.net