- The Washington Times - Friday, January 25, 2002

Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday announced the creation of a new visa program aimed at protecting people particularly women and children smuggled into the United States to work as prostitutes, domestic workers or farm laborers.
The new "T visas," created by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, will allow victims of those who smuggle people into this country to work to remain in the United States and assist federal authorities in the investigation and prosecution of human-trafficking rings.
The government has estimated that 45,000 to 50,000 women and children are trafficked each year into the United States, trapped in modern-day slaverylike situations such as forced prostitution.
"One of our greatest challenges is identifying those responsible for these unspeakable crimes," said Mr. Ashcroft. "Today's announcement gives victims of human trafficking refuge from the deplorable treatment they endure and sends a clear warning to traffickers that this barbaric action is a fundamental violation of human decency that will not be tolerated."
In March, Mr. Ashcroft announced that combating human trafficking would be a Justice Department priority. The department has since issued new guidelines to federal prosecutors describing the new crimes under the act.
He also has urged coordination among the FBI, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. attorneys offices nationwide and the department's civil rights and criminal divisions. In July, the Justice Department published a regulation implementing the act, which provides protections and assistance to human-trafficking victims while their cases are investigated and prosecuted.
Under the act, persons who cooperate with law enforcement authorities against those responsible for their enslavement can remain in the United States if it is determined they could suffer "extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm" when returned to their home countries.
After three years, they then could apply for permanent residency. In addition, the act allows victims to apply for non-immigrant status for their spouses and children. Victims under the age of 21 also can apply for non-immigrant status for their parents.
"The T visa is a powerful new tool to protect the most vulnerable victims and prevent future trafficking," said INS Commissioner James Ziglar. "It will help INS put the criminals responsible for these horrific acts out of business and behind bars."
Under the act, Justice Department officials said, persons convicted of human-trafficking offenses can receive up to 20 years in prison and, in some cases, life sentences. Pre-existing servitude statutes carried a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment.
The officials said the new statutes are designed to reach the "subtle means of coercion that traffickers often use to bind their victims in service."
Those means include the seizure of immigration documents, psychological coercion and trickery, they said.
According to department officials, victims of this growing transnational crime problem predominantly women and children are trafficked into a wide variety of exploitative settings, ranging from the sex industry to domestic servitude to forced labor on farms and in factories.
A State Department study last year found that 23 countries, including U.S. allies like Israel, Saudi Arabia and Greece, were not doing enough to combat international human trafficking. The State Department list also cited Romania, Turkey and South Korea.

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