In a strong bipartisan vote of 401-20, the U.S. House of Representatives July 26 overwhelmingly passed critical anti-trafficking legislation – the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2022.

The bill, written by U.S. Rep Chris Smith, R-N.J., together with U.S. Rep Karen Bass, D-CA, reauthorizes the historic Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and provides more than $1 billion over five years to strengthen both the domestic and international response to the second largest criminal enterprise in the world – human trafficking.

The predators engaged in human trafficking “never take a holiday, nor can we,” said Smith, who holds a top international anti-trafficking post and has chaired more than 35 hearings and written five anti-trafficking laws including the nation’s historic Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

“Because traffickers and the nefarious networks they lead, always find new ways to exploit the vulnerable, especially women and children, we must aggressively strengthen laws and their implementation,” he said.

“The enormous support in the House for this critical human rights and law enforcement legislation is a testament to a widespread consensus and underscores the absolute urgency for securing the funds needed to protect victims, prosecute perpetrators and prevent trafficking from occurring in the first place.”

Priority Concern

The congressman, who hails from the Diocese of Trenton as a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Whiting, has championed the cause of ending human trafficking around the world. Most recently, he addressed world leaders gathered for the 29th annual session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe held July 2-6 in Birmingham, England. He urged the OSC’s nearly 60-member nations to step up their efforts to implement and strengthen laws combating modern-day slavery. Smith is the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s special representative on human trafficking. He was first appointed to the post in 2004.

Those “who exploit and abuse vulnerable women, children and men never cease in their nefarious work,” he said. “Our commitment to preventing human trafficking, protecting and helping survivors reclaim their lives, and prosecuting those who commit these horrific crimes must be strong, powerful and courageous.”

In Washington, Smith co-chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress, and he is the prime author of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, each of us need to examine our own country’s anti-trafficking in persons’ laws and action plans in place before and during Covid-19 and decide whether new initiatives are needed,” he said.

“Housing and education and employment programming are new provisions in our House bill. We see these as critical to prevent trafficking at all levels, including for survivors who may become vulnerable to re-trafficking due to the hard economic times,” Smith added. “We must invest in our survivors’ futures and help them to heal and take on leadership roles, if they choose to do so.”

Smith’s anti-trafficking efforts come at a particularly critical time as the United States faces its worst border crisis in history with heightened concerns for a surge in human trafficking.

Figures from U.S. Customs and Borders Protection show that more than 2 million unauthorized migrants came across the U.S.-Mexico border in the calendar year 2021 “and were apprehended or turned themselves in – in addition to those not stopped or detected,” according to the website BorderReport.com.

The CPB also said that the agency had nearly half a million “migrant encounters” at the southern border in the first quarter of the current fiscal year.

The recent tragic deaths of 53 migrants being smuggled into the U.S. have thrown into sharp relief the exploitation by human traffickers of those seeking a new life in this country.

On June 27, the migrants were discovered in a sweltering cargo section of an abandoned semitruck near San Antonio; they were being smuggled into the U.S. Only a few in the group survived, mostly children.

“During my career as a healthcare worker and legislator, I have seen too many instances of human rights violations against children and other vulnerable populations including those falling victim to the abuses of human trafficking, both in the U.S. and around the world,” said Bass. “We must take this issue seriously and continue to implement a whole-of-government approach to addressing it. The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2022 moves to do this not only in supporting those who have already fallen victim, but to also prevent future traffickings and bring perpetrators to justice.

“Today’s legislation will also reauthorize the amazing work being done by Homeland Security’s Angel Watch Center – a project mandated by my International Megan’s Law (https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/515/text) )IML) enacted in 2016,” said Smith, co-chair of the Human Trafficking Caucus, which he co-founded 15 years ago.

In just a few years under IML, the Angel Watch Center has made more than 19,000 notifications of planned travel by convicted sex offenders with more than 7,000 individuals who committed sex crimes against children denied travel, helping to reduce child sex tourism,” Smith said.

Ultimate Goals

Among its key provisions, the Smith-Bass legislation will:

  • Provide more than $1.1 billion over five years to reauthorize and enhance successful programs established by Smith’s TVPA such as shelters, mental healthcare, education, life skills and job training;
  • Enhance trafficking prevention education for children by involving parents and enforcement in age-appropriate programs to assist in the prevention of child trafficking as well as online grooming; and
  • Provide $35 million for housing opportunities to help women escape living with their abusers and to help prevent trafficking of graduated foster youth.

“This critical legislation will go a long way toward protecting so many vulnerable people from exploitation while providing tremendous support and resources to victims. It also reaffirms America’s leadership and commitment to fighting for an end to modern-day slavery,” said Smith, who earlier this month met with the newly announced 2022 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report Heroes — individuals from around the world whose tireless efforts have made a lasting impact on the fight against human trafficking.

The Smith-Bass legislation now advances to the Senate, where it is expected to receive strong bipartisan consensus.