02.15.19

Statement Of Senator Leahy On Anti-trafficking And The Southwest Border

Mr. LEAHY.   Mr. President, in his tortuous attempt to make a case for billions of taxpayer dollars to wall off our southern border, President Trump claimed that a wall would stop human trafficking, which has been touted as a priority of this Administration.

On several occasions, the President has depicted human trafficking as women and girls smuggled across the border with their hands and legs tied and duct tape across their mouths.  No doubt there are such cases.  But the overwhelming majority of trafficking victims in this country are U.S. citizens, and among non-citizen victims nearly 80 percent cross through legal points of entry.  As we’ve seen time and again, President Trump makes short shrift of the truth and relies of scare tactics, rather than evidence, to garner support for his misguided policies.

Not only would the President’s border wall do next to nothing to combat the most common instances of human trafficking in the United States, his Administration’s policies have actually harmed trafficking victims, especially non-citizen victims.  

Last year, the Administration announced that applicants who are denied a T visa – an immigrant visa that enables certain victims of sex or labor trafficking to temporarily remain in the United States – may be required to appear in immigration court, the first step in deportation proceedings. This policy has reportedly had a self-censoring effect on victims and victims’ advocates who are hesitant to apply, or to encourage their clients to apply, for a visa that may ultimately land them in immigration court.

The Administration also eliminated grant funding for criminal record sealing or expungement for survivors of human trafficking, previously made available by the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime.  Survivors may have a criminal record associated with their trafficking, such as an arrest for prostitution, or for a charge tangential to their trafficking such as loitering or theft.  Helping survivors clear their criminal record is a critical step in their recovery – one that gives survivors a greater chance at securing stable employment, affordable housing, higher education, visas and green cards, and more.

So once again, we are forced to try to reconcile the President’s rhetoric with the actions of his Administration.  They don’t align.  If this White House were serious about combating human trafficking, it would focus less on creating a false narrative about trafficking across our southern border and instead devote the resources to ensure that trafficking victims can come forward knowing they will be protected and assisted on their path to recovery.

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