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No, letting police arrest California victims of human trafficking is not a good idea

At a press conference last month, San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit took aim at atSB357, the Safer Streets for All Act. The law, which went into effect two months ago,SB357, repealed previous California law that criminalized loitering with the intent to engage in sex work. Nisleit claimed SB357 prevented law enforcement from acting to disrupt human trafficking.

It was an odd claim, considering the police chief made it during a press conference in which he announced his department had successfully disrupted a human trafficking operation, identifying 16 victims of trafficking in the process and arresting 48 people after SB357 took effect. But Nisleit isn’t alone. In recent weeks, a small group of politicians and right-wing media personalities have spread similar claims. Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson, for example, spent an entire segment accusing SB357 of turning California into “a haven for human trafficking.”

These claims are not only false, but they also threaten much-needed reforms —such as those made by SB357 — to combat trafficking.

Although nowhere near a “haven” for human trafficking, California does have its share. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, 13% of all trafficking cases in the U.S. in 2021 occurred in California. No amount is acceptable, and Attorney General Rob Bonta has made ending human trafficking in the state a priority.

In the past, police departments would use the criminalization of loitering with the intention of sex work to arrest sex workers. They claimed that these arrests allowed them to get information that helped to identify victims of human trafficking. But for years, many police departments — including those in Oakland, San Francisco and San Diego — have been moving away from relying on loitering charges to combat human trafficking. That hard data is difficult to square with the current hysterical claims that this repealed statute was an essential tool for law enforcement to address trafficking.

So why did police departments move away from arresting trafficking victims to prevent human trafficking? Because it doesn’t work.

According to a study by UCLA School of Law researchers, nearly 1 in 3 “loitering, with intent” charges from 2017 to 2019 in Los Angeles were rejected due to a lack of sufficient evidence. Moreover, the practice made the problem even worse. Countless survivors of trafficking have said that being arrested was not only traumatizing and revictimizing, but created insurmountable barriers to seeking employment, safe housing, public benefits and immigration relief. Among survivor groups, it’s often said that the fastest way to trap someone in a life of exploitation is to arrest them for it.

Arresting the victims of trafficking is also considered a harmful and ineffective intervention strategy by many federal officials. Guidelines issued by the U.S.intervention Department of Justice’s Enhanced Collaborative Model Task Force prohibit funding from being used to arrest those engaged in the sex trade or sex buyers as a means of identification, outreach and assistance, citing that these tactics compromise survivor safety and recovery.

The practice was also under fire for being discriminatory. “Loitering with intent to commit prostitution” is so vague and subjective — allowing an arrest based on how someone is dressed or what makeup they’re wearing — that officers could make arrests for completely arbitrary, discriminatory and baseless reasons. Data from across the state also showed significant racial and gender disparities in who was arrested for loitering. People arrested under the old law were overwhelmingly transgender and cisgender (i.e., not transgender) women of color — not sex buyers or human traffickers. Black adults, for example, made up a majority of the people arrested for this crime in Los Angeles from 2017 to 2019, even though they are only 8.9% of the city’s population.

Traffickers rely on these arrests to criminalize victims so that they are trapped and unable to access safety due to their criminal records. The arrests make individuals being trafficked even more vulnerable to continued exploitation.

SB357 reduces the criminalization and vulnerability of survivors and enables those who were convicted of the repealed loitering crime to clear their names.

A core tenet of human trafficking is that traffickers utilize force, fraud and coercion to control their victims. The state replicates these circumstances when it threatens survivors with prosecution under a loitering law to incentivize them to cooperate or provide information. By threatening arrest and incarceration, the government signals to survivors that they cannot trust the criminal legal system and that it is not there to protect them. These practices only make it more difficult for survivors to trust the services that are available to them, such as housing, health care and counseling.

SB357 is a small step in the process of repairing our systems that cause harm to survivors.

Survivors of trafficking need support and resources without the threat of arrest as well as strong labor protections that all workers deserve.

Human trafficking has existed as long as inequality has existed and truly addressing it means doing the work to reduce inequality — as opposed to grandstanding for attention.

Leigh LaChapelle is associate director of survivor advocacy at the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking. Tony Hoang is executive director of Equality California.


There is no time to waste, #StopAsianHate!

On March 16th, a 21-year-old white man killed eight human beings, six of whom were Asian women. We are heartbroken for the families of the victims and outraged by these increasing acts of violence targeting Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. Racism, misogyny, and xenophobia are urgent public health issues that we must act upon as a community with shared values and a vision to end hate.  

This act of hate is not an isolated event. Stop AAPI, a project run by a coalition of organizations received nearly 3,800 reports of racism and discrimination against Asian Americans between mid-March and the end of 2020. Stop AAPI also noted that women reported hate incidents 2.3 times more than men.   

More than 23 years ago, Cast was founded in response to the El Monte human trafficking case where 72 Thai garment workers were held for eight years in debt bondage. A strong community coalition resulted, and today API immigrants and Asian Americans are the third largest community of survivors we serve.   

We join with the same community partnerships we have sustained for 23 years, and we will fight with our shared values and tireless advocacy to dismantle White Supremacy that fuels racial and gender violence. Our work is intersectional, and our shared approaches are collaborative. Injustice has no place in our community, or the world, and we stand with our AAPI partners and survivors in full solidarity.

There is no time to waste. We urge you to support anti-hate legislation and seek resources for healing and health.

AB886 – Combats Recent Surge in Hate Attacks

Stop Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Hate 

Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council – API Human Trafficking Task Force (includes links to multilingual resources)

Asian Mental Health Project 

Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum 

National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association 

LA vs Hate

Cast’s mission is to end human trafficking through education, advocacy, and empowering survivors.

Governor Newsom Must Provide Specific Funding for Human Trafficking Victims When He Provides Budget Augmentation for those Most at Risk

(LOS ANGELES, CA) – Today, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (Cast) released the following statement in response to Governor Newsom’s coronavirus-related announcement:

“We applaud Governor Newsom for his commitment to at-risk youth, particularly foster children, during the pandemic. However, this narrowly focused investment will not adequately protect all Californians who are at heightened risk for human trafficking due to COVID-19. We must take action now for all the truly vulnerable and invisible, including undocumented immigrants, immigrants on temporary visas, unaccompanied immigrant children, and homeless youth and adults,” said Kay Buck, CEO of Cast.

“While the world is essentially on hold due to the pandemic, human trafficking is not. In fact, we expect higher rates of trafficking as we’ve seen before in the aftermath of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. There we saw increased forced labor in construction, and we can expect to see the same in other essential industries in California such as nursing, elder care, and in our food supply chains. Further, higher rates of unemployment and shelter-in-place orders cause trafficked victims to suffer abuse longer as they are now even more bonded to their exploiters, who often control victims by providing housing and other basic necessities. We can save thousands, if not more, by immediately expanding resources for organizations on the ground who can prevent human trafficking before it starts, confirming lines are open for reports of employment exploitation and abuse, and ensuring that the first responders continuing to provide safe havens and specialized services for those to flee to during and after the pandemic are adequately prepared for the expected influx in cases,” concluded Buck.

Download the Press Release >

Read our Recommendations to Governor Newsom for Additional Funding to Prevent and Respond to Human Trafficking.

Increased Resources Needed >

Cast receives National Partnership Award

The Los Angeles-based Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (Cast) has been named the 2019 National Award Winner of the Mutual of America Community Partnership Award.

The Mutual of America Community Partnership Award recognizes outstanding nonprofit organizations in the United States that have shown exemplary leadership by facilitating partnerships with public, private or social sector leaders who are working together as equal partners to build a cohesive community that serves as a model for collaborating with others for the greater good.

“The Award Selection Committee was impressed by the program’s impact on the lives of the targeted population and the impressive results of this dynamic partnership since its inception.”

Chairman and CEO of Mutual of America Foundation, Thomas Gilliam.

Cast is the recipient of the Thomas J. Moran Award in recognition of its groundbreaking partnership with Dignity Health and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. This unique partnership aims to ensure victims of human trafficking are identified in healthcare settings by Survivor Advocates working alongside health practitioners.

A 2016 Cast study found that 97% of victims were never provided with information or resources about trafficking from healthcare providers. Over the last year, 105 potential human trafficking victims have been identified in four Dignity Health hospitals as a result of their partnership with Cast.

“Cast has been leading the charge to end human trafficking through cutting-edge partnerships that identify and empower survivors in new sectors. It is truly an honor to be recognized for our commitment to survivors and innovative teamwork.”

Cast CEO, Kay Buck.

Cast stands in partnership with over 3,000 cultural and faith-based community groups, healthcare organizations, and government agencies that work collaboratively to provide accessible services and justice for survivors. Cast is committed to strengthening its partnerships with leading anti-trafficking organizations and coalitions around the country, as well as forging new relationships with service providers to meet the increase in demand for social and legal services in Los Angeles County. For more information about Cast’s partnerships and outreach visit

Smith Human Trafficking Victims Compensation Bill Receives Governor’s Signature

SACRAMENTO, CA — Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita) is pleased to announce that her Assembly Bill (AB) 629 was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom this week as part of the package of bills he signed addressing public safety and supporting victims of crime. The bill creates parity within California’s Victim Compensation Program (VCP) and seeks justice for victims of human trafficking, allowing them to receive compensation from the economic losses as a direct result of their being trafficked and including an updated formula for restitution.

“The stories I heard from survivors of human trafficking completely broke my heart,” Assemblywoman Smith said. “It was clear the scars of human trafficking are compounded with the obstacles of rebuilding a life from the bottom up, often interlocking with issues such as homelessness, addiction problems and physical and mental trauma. This bill touches the surface of hardship that victims endure, but AB 629 helps victims get back on their feet and out of the human trafficking cycle. I thank our partners, Bet Tzedek Legal Services and Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), for their remarkable advocacy efforts, and my colleague, Assemblywoman Gonzalez, for her leadership and partnership on this legislation.”

This California Legislative Women’s Caucus priority bill also expands the types of documentation determining income loss the VCP Board may accept. Human trafficking victims are often unable to provide proof of income loss, but AB 629 alleviates the onerous burden of proof and sets a standard to qualify for lost income relief.

The bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Smith and her colleague, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), and mounted abundant bipartisan support from both houses. The measure received no opposition and no votes in the State Legislature.

“Bet Tzedek is thrilled that after years of advocacy, including brave and essential personal testimony from many survivors, California has done right by human trafficking survivors by putting them on equal footing with victims of other types of crime,” Bet Tzedek Directing Attorney Jenna Miara said. “This bill will give hundreds of survivors much-needed support as they recover and put their lives back together. We are grateful to Assemblywoman Smith, Assemblywoman Gonzalez and Governor Newsom for their support.”

“The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST) hopes AB 629, first-of-its-kind legislation providing a little bit of justice for trafficking survivors, will be adopted in many other states and thanks California and Governor Newsom for their leadership on this issue,” CAST Senior Policy Advisor Stephanie Richard said.

AB 629 takes effect on January 1, 2020.

Assemblywoman Christy Smith represents California’’’s 38th Assembly District, which includes the communities of Santa Clarita, Simi Valley, Agua Dulce, Castaic, Santa Susana Knolls and North San Fernando Valley.

CONTACT:, (661) 286-1565

Read the full Press Release here.

How Sex-Trafficking Survivors Are Locked Out of Victim Funds

To claim lost income, they need a note from their employer—also known as their trafficker.

Deborah Pembrook doesn’t remember exactly when she was first sex-trafficked, but she knows it was early—the images of abuse collide in her brain with images of childhood crayons and stuffed animals. When she finally escaped, she was 17 years old and all alone. Her earnings had gone to her trafficker, so she had no savings, and she was forced to move to another state, so she had no family or safety net. And because of the laws in California—the state where she eventually settled, to disappear among tourists on the crowded beaches of Santa Cruz—she had no way of getting what she really needed: cash.

Throughout the United States, thousands of human-trafficking survivors are struggling to make up for the wages stolen from them while they were enslaved. But unlike victims of other violent crimes—say, a mugging victim who can’t work because of their injuries, or a robbery victim who can’t work because of a stolen computer—trafficking victims are routinely barred from recouping lost income through state victim compensation funds.

Now, lawmakers in California are trying to change that. A new bill would secure the right of sex- and labor-trafficking victims to recover lost income through the state’s victim compensation fund—a decades-old institution that provides reimbursement for crime-related expenses like medical care, mental health services, funeral expenses, relocation, and lost income. In the last year, it paid out more than $57 million dollars to victims of violent crimes.

Trafficking victims aren’t explicitly locked out of the fund—in fact, many have received compensation for expenses like mental health services or relocation. But when it comes to paying back lost income, the devil is in the details: Under current state guidelines, any crime victims seeking reimbursement for lost income must submit a worker’s compensation report or a letter from their employer. In a trafficking case, that’s the same person who exploited the victim.

“Common sense tells you no trafficking victims could ask their employer for a letter documenting their trafficking,” said Stephanie Richard, a senior policy adviser for the nonprofit Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST). “Therefore if the victims compensation fund wishes to fully compensate all victims, they need to come up with a different system.”

The problem isn’t unique to California. A Daily Beast analysis of publicly available documents found that the majority of states require pay stubs, tax filings, or confirmation from an employer to apply for lost income—all documents that a trafficking victim would not be able to access. No states have statutes affirming that trafficking victims are entitled to lost income.

Richard first started working on a solution in 2015, when she realized that none of her organization’s nearly 300 clients would be able to access lost income through the California fund. At first, Richard and representatives from Bet Tzedek—a nonprofit providing legal services to low-income communities—tried working directly with the California Victim Compensation Board. But after nearly two years, the board said it didn’t have the regulatory authority need to make such a substantial change. They would have to go to the legislature.

The bill that CAST, Bet Tzedek, and Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez drafted in 2017 added language directly to state statutes affirming a trafficking victim’s right to lost income. It also set up a simple calculation for determining lost wages—40 hours a week at minimum wage, for as long as the person said they were trafficked—and capped payouts at $20,000. And it directed the state compensation board to determine what kind of proof was needed to establish the length of the trafficking, whether through police reports, advocate statements, or victim testimony.

In 2018, the bill passed the California legislature unanimously. Supporters included the California District Attorneys Association, the California College and University Police Chiefs Association, and the California Narcotic Officers’ Association.

But at the last minute, then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it. In a statement, his office claimed the plan would fundamentally “change the nature of the Board’s system for compensating victims” and would place an “unsustainable burden on the Restitution Fund.” 

The advocates were stunned.

“We felt like the policy arguments were there,” Richard said. “Governor Brown had signed numerous pieces of anti trafficking legislation that year, and it felt like he hadn’t signed the most important one for survivors.”

When the legislature founded it in 1965, the California Victim Compensation Fund was the first in the country. Along with money for victims, the fund paid out damages to so-called “good Samaritans” who were injured while trying to prevent crimes, and to California residents who were victimized in or out of state. In 2017, the fund paid more than $3 million to California-based victims of Harvest Festival shooting in Las Vegas. It also paid more than $11 million for funeral and burial expenses statewide, and $18 million to support victims’ mental health.

Supporters of the bill, known as AB 629, know that reimbursing trafficking victims for lost income would require a conceptual shift. Unlike a mugging victim with a broken arm, a trafficking victim’s request would stem from income lost during the commission of the crime, not afterward. But advocates say that it is the government that is fundamentally changing the nature of the fund—not them—by effectively excluding trafficking survivors from full benefits.

“As long as we have a fund right now that purports to fund victims of crime, in my view there’s no reason why victims of [human trafficking] should be isolated and shunned from this group,” said Claire Lipschultz of the National Council of Jewish Women, which is supporting the bill. “If we have a structural system in place that California has identified as important, to not include this survivors just seems discriminatory.”

When Pembrook first escaped her trafficker, she worked days at the boardwalk and nights as a janitor to afford a place to live. But she knows that the days of findings a $200-a-month apartment in Southern California—even a seedy one, like the places she stayed—are over. Today, as a counselor to other trafficking survivors at the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center she believes money from the victims compensation fund could help her clients pay for housing, education, or whatever else they need to feel safe.

Existing programs for trafficking survivors, she said, are “often very rule-intensive and they don’t give survivors choices.”

“What made me feel safe when I was exiting was having choice,” she added.

Other states have also tried to make it easier for trafficking survivors to access funds in recent years. In New York, lawmakers expanded the amount of time child sex abuse survivors are given to file civil cases and potentially win settlements. According to Mother Jones, hundreds of lawsuits hit state courts in the wake of the change, naming abusers like the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, and financier Jeffrey Epstein.

But Matthew DeCarolis, a staff attorney for Bet Tzedek, noted that most human traffickers aren’t well-known multimillionaires like Jeffrey Epstein. Most are harder to pin down because—by the very nature of their enterprise—they move frequently, and purposefully hide their assets. Others may already be in prison, or otherwise financially insolvent, and thus unable to earn money to pay back judgements.

Victims can also access compensation through the criminal court system, DeCarolis said, but that would still require tracking the perpetrator down and forcing victims to relive their trauma through lengthy court proceedings.

“The [Victim Compensation Fund] is and always will be a payer of last resort,” DeCarolis said. “But the fact of the matter is, for a lot of trafficking survivors, there are no other options.”

As to whether the California fund can afford this change, that remains to be seen. The fund has always run a surplus; in 2008, the state borrowed $80 million from its coffers, according to a budgeting spreadsheet provided by CAST. But because of recent criminal justice reforms, the fines and fees from which the fund draws its revenue are decreasing. Both sides agree it may have trouble sustaining itself in the future. 

But Richard says that’s no excuse for locking survivors out of their money.

“We are not questioning that in the long run the fund will have to be replenished and have different courses of funding,” Richardson said, “but we question the governor’s stance that it should be done on the backs of trafficking victims.”

According to CAST’s latest projections, passing AB 629 would cost the fund less than $300,000 a year. Currently, fewer than 200 victims apply for funding annually, and less than half actually receive a payout. Even if each victim applied for a full year of lost income—unlikely, because CAST says the majority of their clients were enslaved for six months or less—the total cost to the fund would be $256,000 a year. Currently, the fund pays about $11 million dollars annually in lost income to victims of other crimes.

This year, after the election of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assemblywoman Christy Smith reintroduced the legislation—this time with the coveted support of the state Women’s Caucus. Last week, the bill once again passed the legislature unanimously. Now, the final hurdle is seeing whether the legislation can get the governor’s signature.

Smith told The Daily Beast she is hopeful that Newsom will sign the bill, adding that it would help “support reintegration into society.” But for advocates like Richard and DeCarolis, it’s also a way for society to show a little faith in their clients. 

“Not that any amount of money can compensate anyone for any type of exploitation they’ve been through, but [this is] at least some very tangible recognition that their case is taken seriously, even if the trafficker is never prosecuted or tracked down,” DeCarolis said.

Added Richard, “This allows people to get a little bit of justice from the system.”

Read the full Press Release here.

Assemblywoman Christy Smith Advances Legislation to Help Victims of Human Trafficking

SACRAMENTO – Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita) and joint-author Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) moved forward AB 629 to help human trafficking victims rebuild their lives. The bill is cosponsored by the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) and Bet Tzedek Legal Services.

Assembly Bill 629 would make human trafficking victims eligible to receive compensation from the California Victim Compensation Board for income lost while being forced into labor or services comparable to modern-day slavery.

“We must demonstrate our commitment to victim’s recovery by ensuring fair and equal access to compensation for loss of income,” said Assemblywoman Smith. “Human trafficking victims bear the scars of their trauma for a lifetime. These resources are an important tool in supporting a better future for them.”

Last year, AB 900 (Gonzalez, 2018) the predecessor legislation to AB 629, passed with unanimous support of both the Assembly and Senate.  Unfortunately, it was vetoed by the Governor because of the stated “over-committed funding source” of the crime victim’s fund.  Both the federal and state crime victim funds are currently operating with a surplus.

“The nightmare these victims face does not end when they are rescued. This measure will make sure the thousands of Californians who were enslaved by human traffickers can get the resources and support they need to become strong, independent members of our community.”

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego)

Read the full Press Release here.

Kaiser Permanente Southern California partners with Cast LA to complete Human Trafficking Survivors’ Path to Wellness

CAST coordinates a continuum of compassionate, whole-person care to help victims of human trafficking access the care they need to recover and thrive for a lifetime. Integrated services range from medical, mental health, and dental, to housing, legal, education, and leadership training. CAST also offers access to healing arts such as yoga, meditation, and acupuncture, along with workshops on nutrition, exercise, financial planning, and other life skills.

“We’re creating a community of self-care, where survivors feel empowered to take charge of their own health and lives. The people who come to us after they escape their trafficker have experienced a lot of trauma. Many have lost hope or trust in others. We take a complex trauma treatment approach that considers the total person – mind, body, and spirit – to help them heal and integrate back into society as healthy community members.” 

— Kay Buck, chief executive officer, CAST

Kaiser Permanente Southern California has partnered with CAST over the past decade to help the nonprofit enhance its services. Most recently, KPSC approved a $150,000, two-year grant in 2018 to help boost CAST’s efforts to:

• Enhance and coordinate whole person care services
• Develop a curriculum and train mental health providers on trauma-informed, evidence-based best practices to expand and improve mental health treatment
• Educate and advocate with policymakers, county officials, and community leaders on how to increase or improve access to emergency and permanent housing for trafficking victims

“Through our partnership with Kaiser Permanente, we can provide training of health care practitioners to identify survivors when they see them, as well as ensure survivors receive the best care possible,” Buck said.

Read more about Cast’s healthcare efforts and watch the interview with Ima and Kay at:

The Hypocrisy of Trump’s Anti-Trafficking Argument for a Border Wall

In 1997, Ima Matul, a seventeen-year-old living in rural Indonesia, was offered a job as a live-in housekeeper in Los Angeles. The person who recruited her promised that, if she worked for a few years, she could leave with enough money to help her family build a new house and start a better life in Indonesia. Her salary would be only a hundred and fifty dollars a month, but job opportunities in Indonesia were scant, so she accepted, and her recruiter arranged a tourist visa. When she arrived in L.A., though, her employer confiscated her passport. Matul lived in a corner of the family room in her employer’s home, cooking and cleaning for up to eighteen hours a day, without pay; if her work didn’t meet certain standards, her employer beat her. Her tourist visa soon expired. Because she spoke very little English and didn’t know anything about the U.S. immigration system, she had no idea where she would go if she did manage to leave the house. Her employer told her that, if she went to the police, she would be arrested. But, after three years, Matul had learned enough English to write a letter asking for help, and she gave the letter to a neighbor’s nanny.

Matul imagined that, after escaping, she would work illegally until she could afford a plane ticket back to Indonesia. She couldn’t fathom a way to stay in the United States. The neighbor, though, took her to cast, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that helps survivors of trafficking. Workers there told her that she could apply for a T visa, which is designed for victims like her. It took Matul a moment to understand what they meant. “I didn’t even know I had been trafficked,” she told me. Matul got the visa, then a green card, and, eventually, U.S. citizenship. She now works for cast, as the coördinator of its Survivor Leadership Program, which gives survivors of trafficking a platform to help and advocate for others who are escaping similar situations. In 2015, she also helped form the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, a board composed of eleven survivors, which helps the President shape anti-trafficking legislation. In 2016, she spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

It is difficult to determine the prevalence of trafficking in the U.S. because there is no single reliable source for statistics; experts rely on hotlines, court cases, and, in the case of non-citizen victims, visa applications to collect data. Since 2000, when the T-visa program began, thousands of people have applied, and the number of yearly applicants has steadily increased as victims and advocates have become more aware of the program. (The same is true for U visas, which are designed for victims of general crimes and are now so frequently requested that they have a fifty-month waiting period.) The T visa has proved to be a reliable safety net for survivors of trafficking, and no viable alternative exists for those who are rejected or don’t apply.

Trump has tried to establish himself as a crusader against trafficking. The issue is bipartisan, appealing equally to left-leaning labor reformers and evangelical Christians. In October, 2018, Trump was the first President to address an interagency task-force meeting on trafficking. “Our country will not rest until we have put these vile organizations out of business and rescued every last victim,” he said in his speech. In an op-ed published last November, in the Washington Post, Ivanka Trump touted the President’s appearance at the task-force meeting as one of his many accomplishments. In January (which is National Slavery and Human-Trafficking Prevention Month), Trump held a roundtable discussion, in Texas, in which he made reference to human trafficking, claiming that building a border wall would “stop it cold.” Later in the month, as he defended the government shutdown, Trump relied on one of his preferred images of trafficking: women being smuggled across the southern border, “tied up, with duct tape on their faces, put in the backs of vans.”

This is a false characterization of the problem. According to data from the Department of Justice, in 2017, roughly two-thirds of the trafficking victims who were served by organizations that received funding from the Office for Victims of Crime were U.S. citizens. Among non-citizens, illegal border-crossing is not typically the issue. “Most of the victims we work with come in on perfectly good visas,” Martina Vandenberg, the founder and president of the Human Trafficking Legal Center, told me. This mischaracterization is part of a cynical strategy that uses trafficking to bolster arguments for harsh immigration policies and also makes it more difficult for non-citizen victims to remain safely in the U.S. Last year, despite having originally exempted people who were applying for humanitarian visas, the Administration announced that, beginning in mid-November, applicants who are denied T visas may be required to appear in immigration court, the first step in deportation proceedings. Because the change was presented as a separate, almost dully bureaucratic shift in the rules, officials have an easy defense: the T-visa program itself has not changed, Michael Bars, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, stressed in e-mails. But this is one of a few ostensibly minor changes the Trump Administration has made to the system that have already had an outsized impact on the trafficking community.

Read the rest of the article at The New Yorker.

“We’re About to Make Pimps’ Jobs Real Easy”: The Shutdown Has Put Trafficking Victims in Harm’s Way

At Courtney’s House, a Washington, DC, center for young sex trafficking survivors, founder Tina Frundthas been seeing kids every day who are afraid of the government shutdown. They’re worried, she says, that it is affecting the many services they sorely need. She spoke of one 19-year-old she works with who is still in school and dealing with mental health issues. The young woman was recently able to get on food stamps and find temporary shelter while she waits on a list for federally assisted housing. But with the chaos in the Capitol, she has been panicked that the housing process will stop moving and food stamp funding will soon run out. She’s afraid she’ll fall through the cracks.

On the other side of the country in Los Angeles, the case workers at CAST, a direct services nonprofit for trafficking victims, have been dealing with similar fears. One woman, trafficked from another country, just got a special visa and a work permit. She was so excited to apply for a social security number, says Kay Buck, CEO of CAST, but she couldn’t because of the shutdown. At least for now, she can’t apply for jobs or health insurance since she doesn’t have the necessary identification.

Read the rest of the article at Mother Jones