Taking it to Congress

In the quest to end human trafficking, advocacy and raising awareness are always important elements. Rehabilitating victims is essential. And prevention is crucial. Yet one cannot forget the legal angle. Political leanings and frustrations aside, our government does have significant power in working to combat human trafficking, domestically and abroad.

The Office to Combat and Monitor Trafficking in Persons (TIP Office) has far reaching impact. It extends grants to organizations and governments seeking to curtail human trafficking. It establishes, funds, and works to implement anti- trafficking models worldwide. Furthermore, it publishes an annual TIP report, ranking 180 countries on their efforts to address human trafficking and slavery. The report gives the US diplomatic leverage to encourage other nations to amp up their resources in fighting this rampant crime.

At the size that it is, the TIP office has an incredible amount of impact. It is the United States’ most important diplomatic resource in the eradication of modern day slavery. It is able to support NGOs with about $22 million a year, in their efforts to free slaves, aid victims, prosecute perpetrators, and build sustainable systems of justice to discourage further trafficking. However, as the TIP office is a office and not a bureau, within the State Department, it is hampered in its outreach. Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, who directs the Office does not have direct access to the Secretary of State. The Ambassador and his staff are the government’s leading experts on slavery, but they are currently left out of some of the most pressing decisions. For example, when anti-trafficking “tier rankings” are determined for the TIP Report,  political considerations sometimes outweigh a countries true anti-trafficking efforts.

The office of the State Department which has the most knowledge and understanding about modern day slavery needs to have a voice when important decisions are made. The office is responsible for the voices of millions of the most marginalized people on the Earth. It needs to have more political clout.

And this is where legislation comes in. Earlier this year, Representative Christopher Smith proposed the Human Trafficking Prioritization Act, a bill seeking to simply elevate the TIP office to the status of a bureau. This bill, H.R. 2283, is budget neutral and would add no more staff members. It would simply raise the Trafficking in Persons office to a place of priority, and give it equal footing in the major decisions regarding modern day slavery.

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Now this is where my lobbying comes in. As a representative of the International Justice Mission, I met with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren to advocate her co-sponsorship of this bill. She has done tremendous work so far against human trafficking, co-sponsoring a multitude of trafficking- related pieces of legislation, including the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Acts of 2007 and 2008. I assumed that co- sponsoring this bill would be a no- brainer for her, as she had been so active on past efforts against trafficking.

In our meeting, she was receptive, engaged, and obviously passionate about the issue. However, she was less readily on board with the bill than I expected her to be (judging by her co-sponsorship and voting record). As she is friends with the Ambassador, Luis CdeBaca, she seemed to have an insiders look on it– and she quite blatantly said that he’s never complained about an inability to be present at major decisions or anything of the sort… By her knowledge, he was perfectly content with the TIP office staying an office. But she also committed to speaking to him about it and doing outside research to form a more informed opinion (which gave me hope). So… it was positive, but not as positive as I’d anticipated. I recognized that choosing to co- sponsor a bill is not simply as easy as supporting the issue that it pertains to. The inter-weavings of Congress are so much more complicated than I had pre-judged.

Despite my unsureness about her decision, I was overjoyed to receive an email that she has indeed spoken to the Ambassador and has decided to co- sponsor the bill–  SUCCESS! Until she had spoken to me, Zoe Lofgren had not even heard of the bill. After talking to me she was an informed inquirer. And a few days later, she was a full supporter. When raised, are heard.  I was able to bring awareness to a women who has the power to enact change. It is that sort of connecting and passing on of information that is instrumental in being an abolitionist against modern day slavery.

To sign a letter appealing to Congress to pass this bill, visit http://freedomcommons.ijm.org/action-alert/ask-congress-pass-human-trafficking-prioritization-act.
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1 thought on “Taking it to Congress

  1. Pingback: Lobbying 101 | To Stop the Traffick

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