Trump Executive Order on Trafficking Is a Major Step Backward – 2/10/17

On February 9, 2017, the Trump administration released an Executive Order addressing transnational human and drug trafficking. The below is a statement by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance (NGA):

“The Trump administration’s Executive Order on transnational human and drug trafficking falls dramatically short of protecting vulnerable workers and preventing human trafficking. The order is a fundamental policy regression from gains the anti-trafficking movement has made in recent years. It takes the United States government back to a myopic approach focused only on prosecution. It also reflects a particularly distorted immigration enforcement-focused vision, with the racially motivated subtext that traffickers are only foreign nationals, and that all human trafficking is transnational. The policy outlined in the order completely ignores root causes and the conditions of vulnerability that allow trafficking to flourish. It makes no mention of the responsibility of corporations whose supply chains profit from forced labor, and it fails to address victim protections and victim services.

“The U.S. government’s policy approach to fighting trafficking has centered on a ‘four Ps’ paradigm of prevention, protection of victims, prosecution of perpetrators, and partnership with civil society and business. The first three of these are enshrined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), the guiding and still operative legislation on this issue. The new order represents a radical departure from this holistic approach, and one that is likely to contribute to the vulnerability of immigrant and non-immigrant guestworkers, whose immigration status is often exploited by traffickers to keep them in modern-day slavery.

“Our experience on issues of labor trafficking shows why this executive order is exactly the wrong approach. For the last decade, the NGA has worked closely with trafficked workers on labor supply chains, helping them fight for their workplace rights and human dignity. In each case, a U.S. employer benefited from the trafficking, and the fear of immigration retaliation kept workers in forced labor. In 2008, we helped 200 H-2B workers from India escape a racially segregated labor camp at Mississippi at the oil services company Signal International. The workers were criminalized and hunted by immigration authorities when they spoke out against the company. Eventually the company’s collusion with immigration authorities was exposed in a lawsuit. The workers were vindicated by U.S. government agencies and the company was hit with a $14 million verdict in federal court.

“Our organization also exposed forced labor conditions among H-2B guestworkers on Walmart’s U.S. seafood supply chain in 2012. In that instance, a U.S. employer on Walmart’s supply chain threatened immigration retaliation. These cases and others show that an immigration-enforcement approach to human trafficking only adds to vulnerability by handing traffickers and employers the ability to retaliate against whistleblowers.

“The U.S. government should be implementing policies that protect workers’ freedom of association, and giving them the means to report discrimination and abuse without fear of retaliation. We need policies that let worker leave abusive employers without losing their immigration status. We need the U.S. government to robustly implement the nation’s labor laws, including protections around health and safety and wage theft that would combat the broader conditions that allow trafficking to take root.

“Yesterday’s short-sighted and misguided order stands in clear violation of our most cherished American values. At the end of the day, the order represents a victory for human traffickers, and yet another blow to the interests of workers in America. The opposite of trafficking and forced labor is freedom at work—and this executive order contributes to the coercive environment that too many workers already find themselves in.”

CONTACT: Stephen Boykewich, stephen@guestworkeralliance.org, (323) 673-1307

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