On August 2, 1995, I was part of a task force composed of federal, state, local, and community-based organizations that helped 72 Thai nationals escape from a sweatshop in El Monte, California. I was shocked to see slavery still existed 130 years after the passage of the 13th Amendment. Sadly, this was not the last human trafficking case I worked on at the U.S. Department of Labor.
I have come to learn human trafficking, also known as modern slavery, is fueled by a complex web of conditions that makes it one of the fastest growing crimes today. President Obama calls human trafficking a “denial of our common humanity and an affront to our ideals as Americans.” Forced labor and sex trafficking are much more prevalent than often realized, including in the diasporic Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. In 2015, the U.S. issued 508 T nonimmigrant visas to victims of human trafficking; 366 of these visas were issued to foreign nationals from Asia alone. The high number of visas reflects the large proportion of known AAPI trafficking victims.
Human trafficking task forces and similar multidisciplinary teams rely on culturally and linguistically appropriateprograms and services in order to provide trauma-informed care to trafficking survivors. It is essential to assist survivors in their respective cultures and languages in order to effectively meet the service needs of this multicultural and vulnerable population. To highlight and share best practices regarding culturally-specific work, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), which is housed within the Department of Education, recently convened a regional roundtable on human trafficking at the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Human Trafficking Bureau with participants from the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force Initiative , Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team Initiative, the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign, and the newly formed Asian Pacific Islander Human Trafficking Task Force. I was fortunate to participate in this new approach to helping members of the AAPI community. The roundtable recognized the unique needs of AAPIs and focused on culturally and linguistically appropriate services for human trafficking survivors. Participants acknowledged that the unique needs of trafficking victims may be different from other crime victims, and that services must be tailored to address them.
As a part of the API Human Trafficking Task Force’s concerted efforts to address the underserved AAPI human trafficking victims and survivors, eight AAPI organizations under the leadership of the Thai Community Development Center have been awarded $600,000 over the course of three years by the DOJ Office of Justice Programs. The program design consists of a three-pronged approach to serve AAPI human trafficking victims and survivors:
1) in-house specialized services and interventions for victims of AAPI human trafficking that include case management services, legal services, and mental health services; 2) human trafficking training and public awareness activities for professionals, law enforcement, community members, and service providers in order to more effectively identify and respond to victims of trafficking; and 3) task force capacity building to address the specific needs of AAPI human trafficking victims and survivors.
Fortunately, there has been a tremendous shift in strategies to address human trafficking in the past 20 years. New laws and practices have been implemented across the Federal government to protect victims when they are identified and prevent them from being re-victimized. In his recent remarks at the annual meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking Persons, Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted the Administration’s progress in implementing a coordinated agenda that helps prevent trafficking, protect victims, and prosecute offenders. He also highlighted the urgent need to continue efforts to identify and investigate human trafficking cases.
President Obama’s Administration has worked to ensure a whole-of-government approach to combat human trafficking. In addition to the robust actions that the Administration has taken to achieve the President’s vision, the U.S. government continues to explore new and innovative approaches to help trafficking victims. In 2014, the Obama Administration released a five-year federal strategic action plan to combat human trafficking at home and abroad, developed by multiple federal agencies and with input from survivors. Additionally, the President announced the historic appointment of eleven members to the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking last year. The Council is comprised of survivors of human trafficking and together they represent a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. Just last month, the Council released its first annual report, which contains specific policy recommendations, providing the federal government with survivor-informed analysis to combat human trafficking.
Moving forward, I am encouraged by President Obama’s hope and vision to end the horrible crime of human trafficking.