The Fight Against Modern Slavery
Published: March 21, 2012
President Obama, in convening the annual meeting of his cabinet-level task force on human trafficking last week, noted the work the administration has done in law enforcement, aid to victims and diplomatic pressure to help the millions around the world who toil “under the boot of modern slavery.”
But a crucial element is missing in this important campaign. Congress has yet to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a law passed with strong bipartisan support in 2000 and reauthorized in 2003, 2005 and 2008. It expired at the end of 2011.
A Senate bill to reauthorize the act through 2015 cleared the Judiciary Committee in October but has not come to a floor vote. The bill, trimmed for lean times, cuts appropriations to $130 million, but toughens enforcement measures and modestly increases victim assistance to $25.5 million. A reauthorization bill has also been offered in the House, with wrongheaded Republican modifications. It would, for example, shift financing for victims’ services to the Justice Department from the Department of Health and Human Services, which is far better-suited for the job but has been a recent source of Republican obstructionism over contraception and health insurance.
Passing a law to fight human trafficking and slavery is one of those bipartisan no-brainers that Congress used to be able to accomplish — as it did three times in the administration of George W. Bush. But it’s a different era now, one in which conservative Republicans also find reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act unacceptable.
Allowing politics to hamper the campaign against human trafficking is especially tragic at a time when innovative approaches are making gains. A new trafficking hot line, financed through a grant by health and human services, for instance, has taken more than 49,000 calls, connected 5,770 potential victims with services and provided more than 2,155 law-enforcement tips. Those fighting modern-day slavery need support to find and help survivors. Congress should move quickly to keep this effort moving.