2020 TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS REPORT FAILS TO RECOGNIZE EXTENT OF WIDESPREAD ABUSES IN U.S. GUESTWORKER PROGRAMS

2020 TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS REPORT FAILS TO RECOGNIZE EXTENT OF WIDESPREAD ABUSES IN U.S. GUESTWORKER PROGRAMS

On June 16, the U.S. Department of State released its 20th annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Migration that Works, a coalition of labor, migration, civil rights, anti-trafficking organizations and academics advancing a labor migration model that respects the human rights of workers, families and communities – issued the following statement in response:

We are disappointed to see that the U.S. has once again given itself a top grade when it comes to efforts to fight human trafficking. As a diverse coalition of advocates and service providers working directly with survivors of human trafficking in multiple sectors of the labor force, we know firsthand that this grade has not been earned. In particular, we believe the U.S. has a tremendous amount of work to do to address vulnerability to labor trafficking in its guestworker programs. 

Rachel Micah-Jones, executive director of Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM) which chairs Migration that Works, said she and her staff were surprised to see that the U.S. maintained its Tier 1 ranking in the TIP report. “The U.S. should have been downgraded. As an organization that supports migrant worker advocacy, CDM has filed two trafficking lawsuits with internationally recruited workers in the last week alone.” 

Two hallmarks of these programs, worker indebtedness through the recruitment process and unbreakable ties to a specific employer, virtually guarantee that workers cannot safely speak out against abuse for fear of deportation. U.S. government asylum policies, mass detention of immigrants in recent years, including separation of families, and immigration policy response to COVID-19 have exacerbated immigrant workers’ vulnerability and created a climate of fear that fundamentally erodes U.S. efforts to address human trafficking. 

Although the TIP report is used primarily as a tool of diplomacy to “name and shame” countries into improving trafficking prevention and response efforts, the report nonetheless serves as an indicator about how seriously the U.S. takes trafficking in its own backyard. By giving itself a Tier 1 rating, the U.S. government continues to demonstrate apathy toward meaningful improvements of conditions for immigrant workers who provide essential contributions to the U.S. economy. We believe that to truly earn a Tier 1 rating, the U.S. must reimagine its guestworker programs so they uphold fundamental rights to freedom of movement, freedom from economic coercion and intimidation, and access to justice. 

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Migration that Works is a coalition of labor, migration, civil rights, anti-trafficking organizations and academics advancing a labor migration model that respects the human rights of workers, families and communities and reflects their voices and experiences. We envision a value-based model for labor migration that prioritizes the human rights of workers and their families, elevating labor standards for all workers.

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