Reps. Lois Frankel (D-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), and Jim Himes (D-CT) announced in a conference call that they plan to introduce legislation that will require the federal government to release data for temporary work visas given to foreigners and immigrants.
“Millions of foreign citizens are temporarily authorized to work in the United States through a patchwork of non-immigrant visas found in every industry,” Frankel said. “There’s different recording requirements for each visa category and a lot of the data is not public. Without this info, many of these workers are hidden and vulnerable. What is happening is that most employers are honest and treat their workers with dignity, there are unfortunately dishonest unscrupulous folks who actually are trafficking these workers and or abuse them.”
Frankel told the story of a Ukrainian woman who was issued a temporary visa to work as a waitress in Virginia, but her handlers confiscated her visa and sent her to a strip club in Detroit.
“We [still] want to provide temporary work visas for foreign citizens,” Frankel said. “This is going to save lives and even the playing field for honest employers. By having a uniform system of data collection making that public, it will enable government agencies to do background checks and also human rights organizations.”
Frankel’s announcement has perfect timing: the House just passed five bills on improving the U.S.’s international effort to prevent child sex trafficking and provide relief for trafficking victims. One of the bills passed is an amendment to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, reauthorized in 2008 as the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (aka the Wilberforce Act). The bills broaden the definition of a victim, and seek to improve the response of the federal government to victims and the sex trafficking industry.
In fact, this new move to introduce more trafficking legislation may be part of a broader effort to shift the focus of immigration reform. Until now, Congress has approached the issue of immigration as an issue of “security” — as in border security and job security for legal American citizens. If Congress starts to see illegal immigrants as sex trafficking victims, then those who need to be “secured” will not be legal Americans but undocumented foreigners.
The Center for Immigration Studies’ Director of Policy Studies Jessica Vaughan said Congress needs to tread carefully.
“The problems caused by the Wilberforce Act should be a warning to Congress to be very careful with any legislation designed to protect a certain, narrowly defined class of individuals,” Vaughan said in an interview with The Daily Caller, “because if it’s not done carefully enough, it can spiral out of control.”
On Frankel’s, Deutch’s, and Himes’ combined effort on new legislation, Vaughan said that if the legislation makes it easier to call illegal immigrants victims of trafficking, then it will become an excuse not to enforce immigration laws. It’s a victimization of illegal immigrants, Vaughan told TheDC.
“It can become an excuse to avoid enforcing immigration laws by defining illegal immigrants as victims,” Vaughan told TheDC. “In general it’s kind of skirting the problem of sex trafficking.”
Vaughan believes the U.S. already has very good laws and policies in place designed to combat human trafficking.
“It seems to me that the best way to go after trafficking is to dismantle the organizations that do it,” Vaughan told TheDC. “It sounds very much like people are trying to take advantage of the current attention on the trafficking laws to get their pet projects through.”