Religious sisters urge passage of aid bill to ‘break link’ between trafficking, migration

Human trafficking Photo illustration. | Shutterstock

Ahead of a house vote on a human trafficking prevention bill, two organizations hosted an online panel on Feb. 12 highlighting how the legislation could “break the link” between human trafficking and forced migration. 

Alliance to End Human Trafficking (AEHT) and The National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd (NAC) — both founded by religious sisters — are urging Congress to pass a bill that could combat human trafficking by providing grants to organizations in areas with high rates of trafficking.

The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act (H.R. 5856) is on the docket for the House of Representatives this week. If approved, the act would allocate $241 million per year to provide grants for organizations in nations with high rates of trafficking. The bill would also fund aid for survivors and for detecting trafficking in school-age children. The bill, promulgated by 10 Republicans and nine Democrats, would reauthorize the foundational law of 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which expired in 2021

Kwami Adoboe-Herrera, a member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking and a child victim of human labor trafficking, shared his testimony in the online panel “Breaking the Link Between Human Trafficking and Forced Migration: Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act.”

Adoboe-Herrera left Togo, a small country on the west coast of Africa, at the age of 7 in 2006. He came to the U.S. under the presumption that he would be able to get an education and ultimately help support his family. 

But the family friend who brought him to the U.S. smuggled him here illegally and made his life a “living hell” from 2006 to 2013 through physical and emotional abuse. He was put into the school system where a teacher recognized something was wrong and built a rapport with him. He said he is here today “by the grace of God alone.”

Adoboe-Herrera is not alone in his testimony. According to the Human Trafficking Institute, 72% of those trafficked in the U.S. are immigrants. Migration is a large factor because many, like Adoboe-Herrera and his family, are desperate enough to leave their homes in the hope of something better — and are often taken advantage of. 

Sister Maria Orlandini, OSF, from the Franciscan Action Network, spent time in Honduras and El Salvador. She explained that poor conditions often compel people to make the dangerous trip, which leads to being trafficked. In Honduras, 1 in 5 Hondurans live on less than $2 a day while violent crime runs rampant. 

“I saw poverty, people living in shacks. The only brick houses either finished or half-built were the ones of those who had relatives in the United States [to] send money home,” Orlandini said. “People live to find a job in the U.S. hoping to send enough money to the house and to support their family left behind.”

“... Desperate people become vulnerable to human traffickers” said Sister Ann Scholz, SSND, Ph.D., who moderated the panel. 

Marilyn Zigmund Luke, director of advocacy for the Alliance to End Human Trafficking, said the bill could help “expand prevention efforts” and mitigate this migration out of desperation, or “forced migration.” 

“This is really a three-pronged approach at getting at not only trafficking within the United States, but really getting at what’s happening within the home countries of people so that they will not migrate,” she explained. “If this bill is put into effect and the money flows and it’s successful, then people would have less cause and less reason to leave their home country.”

“I mean, no one wants to abandon their home,” she continued. “No one wants to give up their culture and their way of living simply to come with a hope of potentially getting a job or potentially getting a new life, which is a very treacherous journey.”

Fran Eskin-Royer, executive director of NAC, noted that the bill has bipartisan support.

“What also draws NAC to the legislation is that it’s supported by representatives on both sides of the aisle,” she noted. 

Katie Boller Gosewisch, executive director of AEHT, said the alliance is “exceptionally dedicated to addressing root causes of human trafficking,” noting that “forced migration often leads to human trafficking.”

“This first [bill] is exceptionally timely in that one is going to go to the floor in the house this week, but it is also on Feb. 20, the anniversary of the death of Frederick Douglass,” she added. “So in honor of Frederick Douglass, for whom this legislation is named, we’re exceptionally hopeful that this passes the house, moves on to the Senate, and really gets that overwhelming bipartisan support.”

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