New efforts announced by President Barack Obama to fight human trafficking have renewed criticism of his administration for preventing a highly effective Catholic group from receiving funds to aid victims.
In a Sept. 25 speech at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, Obama praised the work of those who have “decided that their conscience compels them to act in the face of injustice.”
He pointed to his Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in working to fight human trafficking and mentioned the Catholic Church as a faith community that is “truly doing the Lord’s work” in its anti-trafficking efforts.
Obama announced a new executive order to prevent human trafficking through new regulations for U.S. contractors and subcontractors, including a prohibition on trafficking-related practices such as charging recruitment fees.
Large contract holders will be required to implement awareness and compliance programs, and a process will be created to identify industries with a problematic history.
The order also requires additional “guidance and training” for those responsible for enforcing the new measures.
The announcement, however, drew criticism from Representative James Lankford (R-Okla.), who said that the president has put his own political gain before the good of trafficking victims.
While he says that he “wants to promote awareness of human trafficking,” Obama has a “record of removing the experts at providing these services,” Lankford charged in a statement responding to the president’s speech.
He pointed to the administration’s decision last year not to renew a grant with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services to aid human trafficking victims.
An independent review board gave the bishops’ group superior ratings for their work over several years. However, the group was passed over for a grant renewal, and the funds were instead given to an organization with a significantly lower score.
The decision came after new guidelines for grant applicants indicated that “strong preference” will be given to organizations that offer referrals for the “full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care.”
Critics contended that the administration was putting the promotion of abortion before the needs of trafficking victims.
The bishops’ group “was not eligible for assisting victims of human trafficking solely because they would not encourage victims of abuse to seek an abortion or contraceptive drugs,” Lankford said.
The Oklahoma congressman accused the president of acting out of political motives. He said that the new executive order was “modeled directly” after a piece of legislation that he had introduced, the End Human Trafficking in Government Contracting Act.
Successfully included as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 that was passed by the House, the legislation is expected to be added to the Senate version of the bill as well.
Lankford argued that the president should not have circumvented the legislative process when the bill had “broad bi-partisan support in the House and Senate.”
The temporary executive order undermines months of work that has been done by both parties to more permanently address the problem, he said.
The congressman noted that more than 20 executive policies and regulations have already been enacted but “have failed to stop the practice.”
“One more executive order will not solve the problem,” he said. “We have a loophole in our law that must be closed, and we have serious enforcement issues of existing law.”
Pointing to the choice of a lower-rated organization over the bishops’ group, Lankford questioned the president’s commitment to promoting effective efforts to fight human trafficking.
He accused Obama of using the executive order “to jump in front of the moving crowd and claim leadership, when real leadership involves not just doing something, but doing the right thing, at the right time.”