U.S. bishops urge passage of anti-human trafficking bill in Congress

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The bishops of the United States have urged Congress to pass a bill aiming to combat human trafficking that would, among other things, provide grants to aid organizations in areas with high rates of trafficking.

The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2023 (H.R. 5856), sponsored by Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, would reauthorize a number of previous anti-trafficking measures first passed in 2000 — which originally expired in 2021 — through 2028. It would appropriate $241 million each year to the programs, which would include aid for survivors of human trafficking in the areas of education, job-related skills training, and scholarship assistance. 

The bill in an earlier form enjoyed support from the U.S. Catholic bishops, though it failed to pass the Senate in 2022. The current bill has not yet been voted on in this session of Congress. 

In a Feb. 1 statement, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, said Congress should pass the measure “without further delay.”

“It is incumbent upon all of us to unite in promoting efforts that prevent the evil of human trafficking. I join our Holy Father in inviting the faithful and all people of goodwill to uphold and affirm human dignity and grow in solidarity with those who are vulnerable to exploitation and have been impacted by this terrible evil of modern-day slavery,” Seitz said. 

Noting the Feb. 8 feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, herself a victim of human trafficking, Seitz continued: “Inspired by St. Josephine’s life, may we accompany them in the pursuit of justice. We also recognize the important role of governments in addressing the conditions that lead to trafficking, and we remain committed to working with our own government and fellow members of civil society to develop and implement anti-trafficking efforts.”

An October 2023 analysis by the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that a ​​total of 2,027 people were referred to U.S. attorneys for human trafficking offenses in fiscal year 2021, a 49% increase from the 1,360 people referred in 2011.

Recently, the issue of human trafficking at the U.S.-Mexico border has been raised by Catholic leaders such as Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, who told CNA last week that an underreported aspect of the border controversy is the rise of human trafficking and sexual exploitation by criminal elements. He has said that cartels and traffickers use Fort Worth as one of their hubs to traffic humans and drugs to different parts of the country. The situation is made worse, Olson added, when the federal government is not “doing its part in maintaining a legitimate border.”

On Feb. 8, Catholics from more than 50 countries across the world rallied together virtually as part of an online prayer marathon for the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking.

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