USCCB News Release
December 23, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Migration Committee Chairman Lauds Enactment of Anti-Trafficking Legislation
WASHINGTON—Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the Unite States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, today hailed the enactment of H.R. 7311, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA). Passed by Congress on December 10, the legislation was signed by President Bush on Tuesday, December 23, at the White House.
"Trafficking in human persons is a horrific crime and should be combated with all the legal means and resources available," Bishop Wester said." The enactment of this legislation is another important step toward eradicating this scourge, both in the United States and globally."
In his remarks, Bishop Wester thanked President Bush and Congress for their leadership on this important human rights issue, but also urged President-elect Obama and the new Congress to ensure that anti-trafficking efforts remain a high priority.
"President Bush has done much to elevate public awareness about human trafficking and should be thanked for his leadership," Bishop Wester said. "It will be important, however, that the new Administration and new Congress remain vigilant and continue to work to end to this abominable practice."
Julianne Duncan, associate director of Children's Services for Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) of the USCCB, emphasized the need for governmental agencies at the national and local levels to cooperate in implementing the new law.
"It is vital that the federal and local governments better coordinate their efforts, so that more human trafficking victims, including children, are identified, rescued, and provided appropriate services," Duncan said.
Specifically, the new law will extend services and benefits to a greater number of trafficking victims who urgently need them. Victims who have a pending application for a visa, for example, will now be eligible for benefits immediately. Additionally, children believed to have experienced a form of trafficking will receive 120 days of interim assistance as they wait to be determined eligible for assistance as victims by the federal government.
Duncan also praised provisions in the legislation which will assist vulnerable children at risk of being trafficked. Provisions include reform of the process for children applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), making more children eligible for permanent legal status and refugee program benefits; a mandate that these children are placed in least restrictive settings based on a "best interest of the child" standard; and requirements that home studies be conducted before children are released. Another important provision creates protections for children who are determined ineligible for legal status in the United States and are repatriated to their home country.
"Children, especially those without parents or guardians, are particularly susceptible to human traffickers and are unable to escape trafficking situations. The provisions targeted toward children will help ensure they are better protected and that they receive services in a timely manner," Duncan said.MRS/USCCB provides social services to victims of human trafficking and was part of a group of organizations that actively advocated for inclusion of the children's provisions in the legislation. MRS/USCCB also convenes the Catholic Coalition Against Human Trafficking, a coalition that supported the legislation and includes over 20 Catholic-related agencies and religious orders.