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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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IPS Blog

Entries tagged "human trafficking"

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Trafficking in Persons Report Takes Concrete Steps Forward but Avoids Controversy

July 6, 2011 ·

Late in June, the U.S. State Department released this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), an annual report that informs the public on U.S. efforts to fight human trafficking. As usual, the 60-page report ranks countries by tiers based on how well they fight trafficking within their borders. Of the roughly 200 evaluated countries, 22 are in tier 3 (bottommost tier), most from the Middle East and Africa. However, the report includes a much richer database of information than solely rankings. Some of its contents are commendable: a focus on victim services, investigative bodies, and the private sector. Other areas of the report show weakness: no mention of diplomatic immunity, the presidential waiver for strategic countries, and comprehensive law for licensing labor brokers.

The State Department's latest trafficking report acknowledges victims need intensive support, but does not stand up to undo diplomatic immunity. Creative Commons photo by NCinDC.

The TIP report acknowledges that due to the trauma that they have experienced and common language barriers, victims of human trafficking need intensive services. A growing number of victims are domestic workers who may have spent the entirety of their lives in America confined to their employer’s home. The report highlights that victims especially need more legal services. From 2005-2010, 19 million more people crossed borders as migrants and as abuse increases, so must punitive efforts. Second, the TIP report states that victims need more investigative efforts. The U.S. Department of Labor, which conducts investigations for labor abuses, has “not yet been funded, trained or given the mandate to focus on human trafficking cases.”

Out of the available 5,000 visas available to victims, only 447 are claimed, not because of an absence in trafficking but because law officials are under-equipped to find victims. Lastly, the report deserves a thumbs-up for recognizing the important role the private sector can play in this fight. It acknowledges that NGO’s work on the ground with victims and need more government funding and that businesses need to increase monitoring over their supply chains. The report suggests some effective ideas such as that the government can provide more funding to NGO’s and create laws to increase business transparency.

The report, however, avoids standing firm on several issues. There is no mention of diplomatic immunity. After attempted rape charges by a domestic worker at his hotel, former IMF president Dominique Strauss-Kahn was just released from house arrest.  Strauss-Kahn and other diplomats like Alan Mzengi, a Tanzanian diplomat who enslaved a teenage girl for 4 years in his home in Maryland, have immunity under the 1961 Vienna Convention.  When 3,500 domestic workers annually come to the U.S. to work for diplomats, the TIP report should have at least mentioned that trafficking by diplomats is unacceptable. In addition, there is no mention of the presidential waiver. The TIP report states that the U.S. will sanction tier 3 countries but usually the president waives most of these countries because they are in our national interest; in 2009, only 2 out of 17 tier 3 countries were fully sanctioned. Of course, these 2 countries were Cuba and North Korea. 

Most importantly, the report falls short on mandatory licenses for labor brokers. The report continually gives examples of the power that labor brokers have over victims’ lives, like Maira, a Honduran girl whose labor brokers tricked her and sold her to a brothel instead of the promised textile factory. She was only 15 years old. The TIP report suggests countries mandate recruiting fee caps, punish abusive recruiters more harshly, establish complaint procedures, and ensure competition among recruiters. However, the most effective way to keep labor recruiters accountable would be to mandate licenses. The report praises the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), which authorizes all recruitment agencies in the Philippines, as highly successful. The report must push to extend such a model internationally and keep labor recruiters more accountable. 

The TIP report clearly has some ground to cover. Even though it shows the dire need for more victim services, investigations, and highlights the role of private actors, it has shied away from controversial subjects. The Strauss-Kahn case overwhelmingly shows how diplomatic abuse is hidden from the public eye and the need to protect workers from diplomats is a basic right. In addition, the report has not addressed presidential waivers for tier 3 countries, for to do so would involve limiting the power of the executive branch. The report must also keep labor recruiters in check and step into how businesses recruit their workers. In order to stop trafficking, the State Department must face the facts and push some buttons.

Reflections on Inequality

May 19, 2011 ·

I first came to the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in 2000 to help expose the abuse of maids and nannies by IMF and World Bank employees. This week’s news about powerful men and the women who clean up after them sounds painfully familiar. As soon as we opened our doors at the Institute’s Break The Chain Campaign project, stories began pouring in from migrant women who came to the U.S. legally as household help seeking the American dream, but found themselves living a nightmare. Many were paid little or no wages, and some reported sexual, physical, or psychological abuse.

I was drawn to this work when I realized I was next-door neighbor to a young girl living in virtual slavery in suburban Maryland. Within a month of research about the scale of such abuse, I was struck by a wrenching irony: Many women come to the United States as economic migrants precisely because the programs imposed by the IMF and World Bank limit the job opportunities and safety nets in their home countries. Then, once they’re here, they may be subjected to abuse. In essence, they are assaulted twice, as IPSer Lacy MacAuley illustrates in her blog post.

Break The Chain Campaign advocacy director Tiffany Williams examines why the mainstream media seems mainly concerned with the fate of "rock star" Dominique Strauss-Kahn, while tending to ignore the suffering of his alleged victim. "Poor women’s bodies are collateral damage of war, prizes for global accomplishment, or simply a means to an end," Williams writes. They "are even more vulnerable to dehumanizing sexual assault than others because their relationships are inherently unequal." Newspapers report that Strauss-Kahn made a "modest" $420,000 annual salary, plus pension contributions. The Fund's extremely generous benefits, the fact that IMF pay is exempt from U.S. income tax, and his wife’s reported wealth combined to facilitate a lavish lifestyle for a supposedly socialist public servant. The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that the national median hourly wage for hotel housekeepers is $8.75. If that's what the Sofitel maid DSK allegedly attacked earned 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, it would come to $18,200 a year, about 4 percent of her alleged attacker's pay.

Such extreme inequity is emblematic. As our nation wallows in an unemployment crisis, the gap between the wealthy few and the rest of us continues to widen. Find more data, analysis, and commentary on wealth and income disparity, at inequality.org, the ground-breaking new website from our Inequality and the Common Good project. While unpacking the twisted sound bites of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and making sense of the staggering statistics featured in the "We’re Not Broke" video, IPS makes the case for the innovative, just, and simple tax reforms that could put an additional $4 trillion back in the Treasury over the next decade. You’ll also find creative approaches to shrinking the budget deficit that don’t gut Medicare.

With your heartening help, we will continue to do our utmost to make extreme inequality and its many insidious consequences a national embarrassment.

Organizing Against Arizona's Immigration Law

July 22, 2010 ·

We Will Not ComplyArizona is expected to begin enforcement of SB1070 on July 29th unless President Obama succeeds in suing the state to prevent the law from being implemented. While the Justice Department is acting on the grounds that Arizona’s appropriation of immigration authority from the federal government violates the supremacy clause, groups around the country say local immigration enforcement endangers the health and safety of Arizona families. 

Enforcement of SB1070 practically requires racial profiling and discrimination, leaving people of color vulnerable to harassment and abuse at the hands of police and racist individuals emboldened by the legislation. We predict that if SB1070 is allowed and similar laws follow, many survivors of crimes like human trafficking, worker exploitation, domestic violence, and sexual assault won't be able to tolerate the risk of coming forward to seek help. 

Control of identity documents and immigration-based threats are commonly reported in investigations of human trafficking. Over the last 10 years, clients of the Break the Chain Campaign at IPS (BTCC), have reported threats like “if you run away, you will be deported,” or “the police hate immigrants, they will go after you,” or simply “you are illegal here, so you do not have rights.” When these threats are reinforced through well-publicized laws like SB1070 and the federal 287(g) program, they become irrefutable fact.  

Even before SB1070, victims' advocates and social workers have been struggling with law enforcement protocol that takes a punitive approach to dealing with undocumented victims. Countless survivors of heinous crimes have been arrested, detained, and questioned before receiving trauma counseling and emergency services, and unknown numbers have already been deported. While much progress has been made in training law enforcement to better identify and protect potential victims, an overall lack of training is one of the biggest problems for most social service advocates in the field. How will SB1070, which forces police to act (though at least one officer has already come forward to resist), affect this progress?  

Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, an outspoken critic of SB1070, held an ad-hoc hearing in June. There, 10-year-old Katherine tearfully recalled the experience of being separated from her family:

It was very hard for me every time I went to school. I kept thinking that maybe I would see my parents when I got back home. I would also have bad dreams where the deputies would take my aunt, her family, and me to jail. I’m still afraid of the deputies. We went to the hospital to visit a relative and I saw deputies and I did not want to go in.

The hearing was spearheaded by a coalition that included BTCC, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, The National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON), Legal Momentum, Jobs with Justice, the 9to5 National Association of Working Women, and the AFL-CIO.  

On July 15th, these groups and others convened a follow-up “National Women and Children’s Advocacy Day." At this hearing, Dr. Carola Suárez-Orozco, representing the American Psychological Association, referenced an Urban Institute report on the detrimental effects of immigration enforcement: 

The report indicates that the vast majority of children whose parents were detained in ICE raids in the workplace and in the home exhibited multiple behavioral changes in the aftermath of parental detention, including anxiety, frequent crying, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, withdrawal, and anger. Such behavioral changes were documented both two to three months after the arrest, as well as at a nine-month follow-up. Disturbingly, the children also experienced dramatic increases in housing instability and food insecurity, which are both dimensions of basic well-being. 

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), who also attended the July hearing, introduced the HELP Separated Children Act, which ensures “parental rights of immigrant women are protected and the risk of family separation is reduced during immigrant enforcement.” The coalition joined dozens of women's groups in urging Congress to support this act. 

Now we're organizing around the country to plan actions before July 29 against SB1070. Join us!

Or call your representatives. Ask them to consider the impact of immigration enforcement on children like Katherine, and support the HELP Separated Children Act.

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