Human trafficking continues to be a devastating reality across the globe – and in the United States. In fact, workers who were victims of human trafficking produce some of the goods and services we enjoy every day, concealed by fraud, illegal enterprise and intimidation. The National Human Trafficking Hotline received 10,359 reports of trafficking situations in 2021, involving an estimated 16,554 likely victims of trafficking – and we know that trafficking is often underreported.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is a committed partner in implementing the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. Here are eight important actions the Wage and Hour Division is taking on this critical effort.
First, we focus on preventing human trafficking from happening in the first place.
Action 1: Effective Outreach on Human Trafficking – In 2022, the Wage and Hour Division conducted 175 outreach events about human trafficking across the country, and we also lent support to outreach led by other federal agencies centered on vulnerable populations. These events help teach communities about human trafficking and provide an opportunity to listen and learn from the voices of advocates and survivors. This month, our Southeast region is hosting its second annual virtual roundtable on human trafficking in the agriculture industry on Jan. 31.
Action 2: Developing Resources – We’ve helped to develop publicly available resources on human trafficking on the department’s website. The website provides important information on how to get help for someone identified in a trafficking situation and outlines the department’s role in combating human trafficking in collaboration with federal, state, local and international partners.
Second, we direct our efforts towards protection of human trafficking victims.
Action 3: Detecting Human Trafficking – We’re uniquely positioned to detect potential human trafficking indicators during the normal course of our investigations. Our investigators are trained to spot potential human trafficking, such as confiscating a worker’s passport and visa documents, which an employer might do to restrict their movement and prevent them from leaving a worksite. In such a case, we immediately make a referral to criminal law enforcement partners.
Action 4: Calculating Restitution – When requested by the U.S. Department of Justice or a state attorney general, we help calculate restitution for sex and labor trafficking victims. For example, after two years of being trafficked by a couple in Texas who forced a victim to provide domestic services nearly 24 hours a day, our help resulted in the victim receiving a check for $121,035.04 in restitution, significantly more than the $30,000 the traffickers initially offered. While no amount of money will ever make up for the distress she experienced at the hand of her traffickers, this restitution gives the victim a chance to rebuild her life.
Action 5: Supporting Immigration Relief for Victims – We help trafficking victims request immigration relief under U and T visa programs. We have dedicated staff in each region who aid victims of qualifying crimes and trafficking in applying for visas. We never ask about immigration status during our investigations.
Lastly, we detect and refer cases to federal partners who investigate and prosecute trafficking.
Action 6: Expanding Participation in Human Trafficking Task Forces – We participate in human trafficking task forces across the country and are currently working with the Office of the Inspector General to expand our network. We contribute our expertise to these task forces by providing information about business models, industry practices and geographical trends.
Action 7: Making Referrals – In cases where we detect trafficking, we immediately make referrals to criminal law enforcement agencies.
Action 8: Pursuing All Available Remedies – We’ll always attempt to pursue the remedies available under the laws we enforce including protections from retaliation, ensuring workers receive their wages and enforcing provisions like those in the Immigration and Nationality Act that prohibit recruiting fees in certain visa programs.
The Biden administration’s vision is a world without human trafficking. Our actions are critical to helping build a world where workers are free from such exploitation.
Jessica Looman is the principal deputy administrator for the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. Follow the division on LinkedIn and on Twitter at @WHD_DOL.