Serving California's Human Trafficking Victims and Refugees
Wagner, John, Policy & Practice
Since 1975, California has received more than 690,000 refugee arrivals, the largest number in the United States. In March 2010, we reached a significant milestone by marking the 30th anniversary of the Refugee Act of 1980, which established the Refugee Resettlement Program, or RRP, administered throughout the country at the federal level by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The intent of the RRP is to facilitate the effective resettlement of refugees in the United States by providing them with assistance to adjust to American society and to obtain skills and jobs that lead to self-sufficiency.
The populations eligible for RRP benefits and services include refugees, asylees, Cuban and Haitian entrants, federally certified human trafficking victims, certain Amerasians (from Vietnam), Iraqi and Afghan Special Immigrants, and Cuban medical professionals. In this article, when we use the term "refugees," we are referring collectively to all of the above populations.
Human Trafficking Victims
Human trafficking is a global problem and a hidden crime. Many victims suffer tremendously and display mistrust of government coupled with fear of their traffickers and their desperate circumstances. This prevents them from coming forward to report crimes against them. In the 1990s, the federal government's recognition of trafficking as a growing problem resulted in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act was the first comprehensive federal law aimed at both criminal and social issues related to trafficking and established human trafficking as a federal crime. TVPA also created two visa categories: the T Visa (for victims of human trafficking) and the U Visa (for victims of serious crimes). The visas allow undocumented victims to remain in the United States until their cases are adjudicated. The federal law also provides federally funded benefits and services to assist certified victims of human trafficking. These federally funded benefits and services are equivalent to those provided to refugees, and include cash assistance and social and employment services.
California's Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts
In September 2005, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed California's first of many anti-trafficking bills into law. Among them were Senate Bill (SB) 180 and Assembly Bill (AB) 22, which made trafficking a state crime and provided for law enforcement training to successfully detect, investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes. These two pieces of legislation also established the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force, which studied the problem of human trafficking in California and developed strategies for combating the crime. I am proud to say the California Department of Social Services was a lead participant in the task force and played a key role in developing its findings and recommendations.
The CA ACTS Task Force was charged with issuing a report to the legislature, attorney general and the governor containing recommendations on how to combat trafficking in California. Its report, Human Trafficking in California, was issued on Dec. 4, 2007, and provided a blueprint for training, public awareness measures and special services needed to assist in the battle against human trafficking. The report can be viewed at: www.ohs.ca.gov/pdf/Human_Trafficking_in_CA-Final_Report-2007.pdf.
Based on the Task Force's report and other research, state officials and trafficking advocates recognized the need for assistance to human trafficking victims who were awaiting federal certification. Beginning in 2005, in addition to SB 180 and AB 22, California passed several other laws, including those that expanded the criminal acts by traffickers that could be prosecuted (i.e., extortion, siphoning of future wages) and increased penalties, as well as laws that mandated restitution to victims (including the allowance of civil litigation). …