Wednesday, October 26, 2011

HUMAN TRAFFICKING LAW FACES OBSTACLES FROM UNLIKELY SOURCE


This is the first in a series of articles by Raymond Bechard focusing on the reauthorization of the 2011 Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the behind-the-scenes political process that is threatening the law’s progress and strength.

Having been ushered into the conference room of a United States Senator deep inside Washington D.C.’s ultra-secure Hart building, I wondered how much further we would get. It had taken nearly six months to schedule this meeting with the Senator’s staff. But, would they listen? Would we be able to convey the reality, importance and the complexity of human trafficking in America? Looking at the idyllic paintings of the Senator’s home state lining the walls, my concern was for the ugly things people choose not to see near – and sometimes in – their homes.

While trying to alert Federal Legislators to the dangers of human trafficking crimes and child pornography on social networking websites – especially Facebook – we had quickly become involved in the current work to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). The law, which defines and governs of all aspects of human trafficking in America, needs to be updated for appropriations every few years. This gives lawmakers the opportunity to make improvements and needed changes to the legislation. However, like every opportunity in Washington D.C., it also brings out the most frustrating aspects of our government’s bureaucracy and political strife.

now there are two bills, one each coming from the Senate and the Congress. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has introduced S.B. 1301 which seems to have the blessing of the Department of Justice (an apparent necessity) and has already passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee. This version of the bill makes very few of the needed changes to the law and lacks the kind of legislative courage so needed to address the issue of human trafficking.

On the other hand, we have H.B. 2830, a bill with far more strength and authority to battle the problem from the street level. This version of the law is far more complete (even containing suggestions for an awareness poster for states to use) and would go much further in protecting and preventing human trafficking victims of all ages from being continually abused. But it has a problem. The Department of Justice doesn’t want to “tinker” with the law, according to one Congressional Staffer. It seems DOJ wants to keep the status quo and not allow any major changes – or improvements – made to the law. Read the Department of Justice Response to H.B. 2830.

Over the next few weeks, I will be reporting on the process and progress of these two bills and the various difficulties faced by the devoted Legislative Staff who are trying to work within the confines of a terribly divisive political climate in order to pass the best legislation possible. The road ahead of them is going to be difficult and confusing, as we discovered during our meeting last week at the Senator’s office. Certainly, with growing levels of animosity growing inside the Beltway, now may not be the time to try for better legislation in the area of human trafficking. But if not now, when? Can its victims wait any longer?

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