July 1, 2011 STATEMENT — LIRS Welcomes the Introduction of New Trafficking Legislation

Press Contact: Fabio Lomelino, Assistant Director for Media Relations
410-230-2721, lirspress@lirs.org

New Human Trafficking Legislation Would Improve Protections for Vulnerable Migrant Youth

BALTIMORE, July 1, 2011—Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people, welcomes the introduction of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2011 (S. 1301). This bipartisan legislation was introduced earlier this week by Senators Leahy (D-VT), Brown (R-MA), Kerry (D-MA), Boxer (D-CA), Cardin (D-MD), and Wyden (D-OR). Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO, said, “LIRS stands with Lutherans all across America and our broad network of legal and social service partners in the fight to abolish modern day slavery. The TVPRA of 2011 represents much-needed legislation to improve U.S. laws that combat trafficking and to ensure that victims or those at risk of being trafficked receive proper services and support.”

The Department of State released its 2011 Trafficking in Persons report. Government officials estimate that there are as many as 27 million victims of human trafficking around the world, many of whom are here in the United States. For example, a federal jury recently convicted a Georgia woman for the human trafficking of two Nigerian youth – ages 17 and 20. The woman lured these young women to come to the United States with promises of a better life and education. However, she beat them, forced them to sleep on the ground, made them eat spoiled food, and never paid them for their work. The woman was convicted of forced labor, trafficking for forced labor, document servitude, and alien harboring, among other egregious offenses. President of Lutheran Services of Georgia and LIRS Board Member Rev. Dr. Gary L. Danielsen said, “I am deeply saddened that the city of Atlanta has become one of the largest trafficking hubs in the country. This form of slavery destroys any semblance of community and is at odds with the values of our country. I am pleased that the new trafficking bill would affirm the U.S. commitment to fighting this insidious practice and I urge vigorous support of this legislation.”

In December 2008, President Bush signed into law similar legislation to combat human trafficking. LIRS played a central role in supporting the bill, advocating for provisions that would protect and assist migrant vulnerable migrant youth in the United States. The TVPRA of 2011 reauthorizes the 2008 legislation and takes steps to bridge gaps in the law.

Recognizing that every year tens of thousands of migrant youth arrive to the United States yet very few trafficking victims are identified, the TVPRA of 2008 (P.L. 110-457) requires DHS to screen unaccompanied minors entering the United States to determine whether they are victims of trafficking or persecution. The TVPRA of 2011 would require the federal government to assess whether DHS personnel are adequately screening these children.

Under current law, unaccompanied migrant children are released from federal custody if they obtain immigration status. However, some unaccompanied children have no family members to support them in the United States. Since 1975, LIRS has partnered with federal and state governments, churches, and community partners to place over 6,000 unaccompanied migrant children with licensed and trained foster families. LIRS recognizes the significant challenges that child victims face, particularly when they are separated from their parents and family. The TVPRA of 2011 allows certain children who have been victims of serious crimes and are granted a “U” visa to access a federal foster care program called the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors program. Instead of releasing vulnerable children who have no one to care for them onto the streets, the bill allows a small number of children every year to access this federal foster care program which is tailored to meet their specific needs.

In July 2010 the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) approved a resolution to support international efforts to end human trafficking and called on the Church to provide information about human trafficking to congregants, encouraging pastors and laity to “become educated regarding this issue and to be proactive in their response.” The Rev. Carlos Hernandez, Director for Districts and Congregations for LCMS World Relief and Human Care and a member of the LIRS Board of Directors applauded the passage of the resolution and said, “I am proud that the Synod voted in support of such an important resolution. The resolution opens up new avenues of addressing this insidious problem by providing resources to congregations as we all join together in combating this grievous and sinful injustice.”

LIRS welcomes refugees and migrants on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating with and on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States.

If you have any questions about this statement, please feel free to contact Eric B. Sigmon, Director for Advocacy at (202) 626-7943 or via email at esigmon@lirs.org.

To read the press release from Senator Leahy about the introduction of the TVRA of 2011, click here: http://1.usa.gov/iN0GCs.

To read the 2011 Department of State Trafficking in Persons report, click here: http://1.usa.gov/lajbx6.

To read more about the human trafficking case in Georgia, click here: http://bit.ly/kw5Rjo.

To read the LIRS press release commending the 2010 LCMS trafficking resolution, click here: http://bit.ly/jMFRYz.

To read the LIRS statement applauding the passage of the TVPRA of 2008, click here: http://bit.ly/kjwBkL.