The White House is updating the United States’ anti-human trafficking strategy to target forced labour in global supply chains and reflect renewed federal efforts against a problem President Joe Biden has had a hand in combatting since his time as a senator.
According to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the plan on Thursday evening, revised National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking retains a number of initiatives and priorities from the plan first unveiled by the Trump administration in October 2020, but with updates “to integrate the president’s core commitment to gender and racial equity”.
“With this action plan, we are renewing our commitment to keeping the fight to end human trafficking at the forefront of our national security agenda,” the official said. “Over the past eight months National Security Council staff here at the White House in close coordination with our colleagues here at the gender policy council and the Domestic Policy Council, and working closely with colleagues at over 20 relevant departments and agencies … began the process of updating the National Action Plan to integrate the President’s core commitment to gender and racial equity.”
The official said the process also required officials to pay “close attention to core commitments on the part of this administration to workers rights to fair trade. And ending forced labour and global supply chains to support for underserved communities and to ensuring safe orderly and humane migration”.
In a statement, Mr Biden called human trafficking “a stain on our society’s conscience and an affront to the ideals that form the basis of our national strength”. The president’s interest in fighting human trafficking dates back to the early 2000s, when he was one of the primary supporters of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Mr Biden’s homeland security adviser, Dr Liz Sherwood-Randall, said human trafficking is “an evil practice that contradicts who we are as Americans and the rights we cherish”.
“With this National Action Plan, we reaffirm our commitment to preventing and punishing human trafficking in all its forms and to addressing the social and economic conditions that can create greater vulnerabilities for marginalised groups,” she said.
Like the October 2020 iteration of the action plan, Mr Biden’s revision is organised around four “foundational pillars” — prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships.
When it comes to prosecuting human traffickers, the Justice Department will be expanding a pilot programme that established “anti-trafficking coordination teams” to partner with US attorney’s offices across the country to train and assist prosecutors in identifying and prosecuting cases of human trafficking.
Additionally, the department will partner with the labour and commerce departments to use “intelligence driven targeting” to advance investigations, as well as initiate a “coordinated interagency labour trafficking, detection and enforcement effort”, which will “look at labour trafficking threats that are being identified by government agencies across the United States to try to really get at a problem of labour trafficking in the United States”.
Prosecutors will also work with the departments of housing and urban development as well as the department of health and human services to ensure that trafficking victims can find stable housing after being freed from what the official called “modern-day slavery”.
Officials said the Department of Homeland Security will also be aiding anti-trafficking efforts through the newly-established DHS centre for countering human trafficking, which will be charged with the mission to “advance counter-human trafficking law enforcement operations, protect victims and enhance prevention efforts by aligning DHS capabilities and expertise”.
A DHS official said the department is “harnessing the best talent authorities and resources of the entire department to continuously improve every aspect of DHS is anti-human trafficking efforts”, and added that a directive from DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has ordered officials to “incorporate a victim centered approach into all policies, programmes and activities governing DHS interactions with victims of crime”.
One difference from the Trump administration’s approach to human trafficking, the official said, is in allowing the use of U-Visas (which are meant to protect crime victims who are not US citizens or permanent residents from removal from the US) for trafficking victims.
Additionally, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has established “human-trafficking points of contact” in every office, and officers are undergoing new training to ensure that they are “better equipped to recognise and respond to human trafficking”.
The official said the Biden administration’s victim-focused approach is meant to “what human trafficking actually is and what it is not,” and stressed that there is a difference between “migrant smuggling” as it is practiced along the US-Mexico border, and actual human trafficking.
“Very often well-intentioned … or perhaps, sometimes less well intentioned people conflate and confuse the difference … we want to make sure that the best information about what is actually happening is available to policymakers, as well as practitioners and people who are on the front lines that can really be out there helping identify people who truly suffering from human trafficking, identify them and get them the care that they need,” the official said, contrasting the Biden administration’s approach to that of both the previous administration and of anti-immigration world leaders who are weaponising migration for their own benefit.
“We come at this with a focus not so much on particular forms of manipulating it for the political benefit or gain, but from the perspective of wanting to ensure that those who suffer from this, the victims … are identified, are well treated, are well supported, and of course that those who have engaged in the practice are identified, investigated appropriately, and brought to justice”.
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