H.R. 2830, Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2011

Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s full committee mark-up of H.R. 2830, Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2011.

Madam Chairman, thank you for scheduling a markup of this important legislation.

For the last eleven years, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act – authored by our colleague Chris Smith – has provided protection and assistance for victims of trafficking, authorized public awareness prevention campaigns and strengthened the prosecution and punishment of traffickers.

The bill before us today builds on the successes and lessons learned over the last decade.

Many of us supported a more comprehensive version of this reauthorization bill that was introduced earlier this year.

Regrettably, that bill had to be scaled back due to cost and jurisdictional issues.

Let me take just a moment to highlight a couple of important provisions from the comprehensive bill that will not be included in this version.

One is the establishment of a Department of Defense Director of Anti-Trafficking Policies, and a second relates to foreign labor contracting. Both of these would have addressed the urgent problem of fraudulent and deceptive labor recruitment in the U.S. and among DoD contractors, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many of the contractors charge exorbitant fees for their services, forcing workers into debt bondage. And many of the workers are underpaid, ill-treated and deceived about their conditions of employment. They are housed in atrocious living conditions, starved and unable to leave the camp or return home as they have no travel papers.

These kinds of problems are stark reminders that we need stricter regulation and monitoring of labor recruiters. So if we’re truly serious about combating modern-day slavery in all its forms, then we have to find a way to fund these programs.

Having said that, this bill does include some important provisions that will help prevent, deter and monitor trafficking in the U.S. and abroad. The bill calls on the President to support public-private partnerships to generate youth employment opportunities to prevent trafficking. It asks the President to prioritize initiatives for potential trafficking victims who are also refugees, internally displaced, stateless, victims of natural disasters and other marginalized communities.

It also requires the Department of Labor to report on the list of goods from countries believed to be produced by forced or child labor in foreign countries as well as the United States. And it encourages the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services to make reasonable efforts to raise public awareness for the national trafficking hotline.

These are just a few of the ways in which this bill will strengthen our efforts to fight the trafficking of persons worldwide.

I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.