Each day, innocent people are being trafficked in Florida, across the U.S., and around the world. It’s hard to imagine slavery like this still exists today, but it does. Fortunately, greater public awareness and improved law-enforcement efforts have helped combat the problem, save countless victims, and bring human traffickers to justice. But there is much more work to be done, at home and abroad.
Today, the U.S. State Department released its 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report, which highlights the prevalence of the problem globally and rates foreign governments’ efforts to combat it. This important report breaks down in detail the nature of a problem that is estimated to affect almost 21 million people worldwide who are now in forced labor, of whom 4.5 million are being sexually exploited.
This year, Venezuela, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Gambia were singled out by our State Department for their particularly atrocious records on human trafficking. Many more were chided for not doing enough to combat this problem within their borders, while others were commended for taking important actions to protect their citizens.
Documenting and highlighting all of this is essential, but the truly important work begins now that the report has been released. We must use every tool at our disposal to apply pressure on problem countries to change. We must shame those who deserve it, and praise and support those who are fighting the problem. We should condition our foreign assistance in part on the effectiveness of other countries’ efforts to protect victims and punish traffickers.
Over time, we have also learned that human trafficking exists among foreign diplomats based in the U.S. We must put pressure on diplomats and their governments to crack down on this particular problem by seeking waivers of diplomatic immunity for offending officials and suspending A-3/G-5 guest-worker visa programs for countries that use these visas to commit trafficking crimes. This matters because we must make clear that the U.S. will stand up for the human rights of every man, woman, and child on earth — especially when such barbaric acts are being committed on our soil, and even if it makes foreign governments squirm.
Of course, with the growing crisis along our southwest border involving unaccompanied minors traveling to the U.S. in violation of our immigration laws, we need to reaffirm our commitment to enforcing laws that are not only designed to protect our rights as a sovereign nation but also to discourage dangerous efforts like these. Human traffickers and drug cartels prey on people just like the children massing at our southern border. Our government must work with foreign governments in Central America to make sure people are discouraged from endangering their lives and putting themselves at risk of being trafficked.
While human trafficking is a global problem that occurs primarily outside America, we also cannot rest as long as this crime is happening in our own communities and to our own people. According to the FBI, an estimated 293,000 American youths are at risk of being trafficked in the nation’s underground sex trade.
The recent reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was a major step forward towards eradicating this evil practice in the U.S., and we must ensure that this law is properly implemented and that law-enforcement agencies have all the tools they need. Congress now has before it several anti-human-trafficking bills, including S. 1823, the Strengthening Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act, which I’ve introduced to combat child trafficking in our child-welfare systems. This is a simple but meaningful commonsense measure Congress should pass now to protect children in foster care from becoming modern-day slaves.
No American should rest easy knowing that modern-day slavery exists in the form of human trafficking. With the State Department highlighting this problem with today’s report, we should renew our commitment to fighting this rampant human-rights violation everywhere that it exists.
— Marco Rubio represents Florida in the U.S. Senate.