“Homeland” Security under Napolitano: Key Player in Human Trafficking Policy

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I blogged recently about the concerns I had when I read the statements Hilary Clinton made in her Senate confirmation testimony related to the issue of sex trafficking.   I heard little sign in her testimony of a desire to change policy from the crusade undertaken by the Bush Administration that overdetermined the problem of human trafficking in sexual terms (thereby ignoring the enormous problem of other forms of forced labor), driven largely by an evangelistic judgement about sex work more generally.

But the State Department through the policy set by its Secretary is not where we can find the front line of the federal government’s efforts to combat human trafficking.   That job falls to the Department of “Homeland” Security (I hate that term), particularly to ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) which conducts raids of brothels and other workplaces where it suspects undocumented and/or trafficked persons may be working.     Indeed, ICE raids have been the U.S. government’s principal means of identifying victims of trafficking according to a recent GAO report.

So, was Janet Napolitano asked about her views on human trafficking in general, or sex trafficking in particular, when she came before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for confirmation?   Nope.

Did she volunteer anything about this issue, as did Clinton in her confirmation hearings?   Nope.

Surely Secretary Napolitano has views on this issue, but we don’t know them yet.   When you go to the “Homeland” Security website the 2008-2013 Strategic Plan, developed by the old Secretary Chertoff but still on the website, does not even mention trafficking.   Yet if you go to ICE’s “What We’ve Done Lately On Human Trafficking and Smuggling” Webpage they highlight all manner of good things they’ve been up to, but few of them are trafficking-related.   Lots of smuggling work (and trafficking is legally and socially a different thing from smuggling), and a bunch of arrests of “illegal aliens.” The two most recent trafficking cases involve raids of brothels in Seattle and   South Florida, both last November.

It’s too early to know what kind of policy will be set by Secretary Napolitano with respect to domestic enforecment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.   But she and her policy team are without question important players in setting a new agenda when it comes to the problem of relying too heavily on raids to deal with the protection of trafficked persons and the prosecution of traffickers.   (More about this below.)   For the moment however, we have some reason to be concerned.

Timothy Keefer remains as Napolitano’s Chief Counsel for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at ICE.   Keefer, a graduate of William and Mary Law School worked for Covington and Burling after clerking a couple years.   In late 2000, after three months at the firm, he was sent to Florida to work on George W. Bush’s legal team seeking to secure him a win in the contested presidential election…

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– Katherine Franke

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One Response to “Homeland” Security under Napolitano: Key Player in Human Trafficking Policy

  1. Ann Bartow says:

    The Bush administration did very little to address sex trafficking here or abroad. I really don’t think you can fairly call it a “crusade.” I’ve seen the claim that Bush focused on sex trafficking to the detriment of victims of other forms of forced labor made in a lot of different contexts, but I have never seen any actual verifiable support for it. The Bush DoJ opposed the provisions of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 which would have facilitated reforms in the ways that prostituted women are treated. It was my strong impression that the Bush folks thought that sex trafficked women deserved what they got. Certainly they consistently opposed spending federal money, or using federal resources, to help them.

    I agree that smuggling and trafficking are different things, but there is a huge overlap between the two. Many of the people smuggled into this country wind up in some form of involuntary servitude, which is correctly conceptualized as trafficking.

    I definitely agree that raids are problematic, and law enforcement approaches to trafficking need serious reform.

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