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Humans for Sale: Bargain Prices

Judy McKee, NAGTRI Program Manager

Judy McKee, Project Coordinator and Counsel, End of Life Health Care

To most Americans, a discussion of slavery is for historians and academics. As a nation, we may still be dealing with the reverberations from our past acceptance of what is now universally condemned as an abhorrent practice, but the notion that slavery still exists in the “land of the free” would be laughable. Unfortunately, however, modern day slavery, in the form of human trafficking, brings an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 people into the United States each year for forced labor or sex.[1] These figures don’t include the unnumbered American citizens, primarily adolescents, who are themselves victims of human traffickers.[2]

In the 2010 annual report on human trafficking, the U.S. Department of State noted:

The United States is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor, debt bondage, and forced prostitution. Trafficking occurs primarily for labor and most commonly in domestic servitude, agriculture, manufacturing, janitorial services, hotel services, construction, health and elder care, hair and nail salons, and strip club dancing. . . . In some human trafficking cases, workers are victims of fraudulent recruitment practices and have incurred large debts for promised employment in the United States, which makes them susceptible to debt bondage and involuntary servitude. Trafficking also involves passport confiscation, nonpayment or limited payment of wages, restriction of movement, isolation from the community, and physical and sexual abuse as means of keeping victims in compelled service.[3]

Congress passed the “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act” in 2000. In enacting the statute, the federal government recognized the necessity of tackling trafficking globally as a human rights issue and the requirement to tackle it domestically through prevention, prosecution, and protection. In the statute, Congress authorized the issuance of a T Visa that grants an international victim of trafficking temporary legal residence in the United States under certain specified conditions.[4] Although issuance of a T Visa has severe limitations, both in the numbers that are allowed to be issued each year and in the qualifications that a victim must meet in order to be eligible for the visa, it is an important tool in a prosecutor’s ability to ensure a witness’ availability to testify.

Most states have followed the federal government’s lead and passed their own state human trafficking laws. Currently, 45 of the 50 states have enacted human trafficking legislation. States such as Michigan and Ohio have recently strengthened their state human trafficking laws. Nonetheless, state prosecutions under their own human trafficking statutes have been sporadic. A lack of training and resources for investigators and state and local prosecutors and judges, as well as a perception that human trafficking is a federal issue, are cited among the primary reasons why states have not been in the forefront of prosecuting human traffickers.

A few years ago, a group of Attorneys General from the border states raised this issue at a Conference of Western Attorneys General meeting. This was followed up by a conference call in October 2009 that was co-hosted by Alicia Limtiaco, then Guam Attorney General and Anne Milgram, then New Jersey Attorney General. Participants on the call included representatives from other Attorneys General offices, personnel from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and stakeholders from non-governmental agencies. Most recently, at NAAG’s Winter Meeting, a panel of experts, including New Mexico Attorney General Gary King and Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, informed attendees of the gravity of the human trafficking problem in our country.

The DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) has undertaken to address lack of training for states in investigating human trafficking by funding and training 38 human trafficking task forces throughout the country. NAAG, through its training and research arm, the National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute (NAGTRI), has received a sub-grant from the Upper Midwest Community Policing Institute (UMCPI).[5] to assist in developing curriculum to train state and local prosecutors and judges on human trafficking prevention, investigation, and prosecution. This grant is a reflection of our country’s commitment to address human trafficking at every level. During 2011, NAGTRI will work with its partners, UMCPI and the National Judicial College, in holding a series of subject matter expert focus groups, developing the curriculum, and presenting one or two pilot trainings. Training state and local law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges in how to tackle the largely unseen but virulent epidemic of human trafficking will create the environment in which states will be able to become full partners with their federal counterparts in combating this crime.

[1] U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Assessment of U.S. Government Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons in Fiscal Year 2004 at 4 (2005), available at <

[2] Some non-governmental agencies specializing in identifying and rehabilitating human trafficking victims estimate the number of children in the sex trade in the United States to be as high as one million. See, e.g., Luz Laso, UR Panel Discussion Examines Human Trafficking, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Mar. 26, 2010, available at

[3] U.S. Dep’t of State, 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report at 36, available at

[4] Human trafficking victims are also often eligible for a U visa.

{5} The UMCPI is one of eight regional institutes funded by the federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).

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