The U.S. government offers roughly 5,000 visas a year to illegal immigrants who agree to testify against the traffickers who brought them to this country and then forced them into prostitution or other servitude. But in the first eight months of this year, only 524 victims applied for the visas and less than half were issued. Federal prosecutors and officials say they want to raise awareness about predatory human traffickers and put them in prison. U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services officials are conducting a national tour, speaking to immigrant advocates and law enforcement officials about the visa program. But they are facing the challenge of convincing illegal immigrants to come forward when sentiment against them is on the rise, and the Obama administration is touting a record number of deportations over the last year.
So writes Laura Wides-Munoz for the Associated Press. But as he announces this "tour," Wides-Munoz quotes Director Alejandro Mayorca as stating "Just because someone agreed to be smuggled into the country doesn't mean they should be victimized."
One might ask the Director why he is further confusing potential victims of human trafficking by talking about "smuggling" when addressing human trafficking. It is the continued conflation of human trafficking with other political agendas (stemming the tide of immigration, securing borders, abolishing prostitution) that has taken us so far off track in the now eleven years since the Trafficking Victim Protection Act was passed into law. ICE, FBI and local law enforcement must be encouraged to not only seek out and "rescue" victims, but to listen to them (not deport them), when they come forward. Only when victims know that they are more likely to receive continued presence than detention will USCIS begin to receive applications. Finally, rather than funding, for example, singer Ricky Martin to make anti-traffciking PSA's, the federal government should spend its trafficking budget to create legal representation for trafficking victims.