Journalism

Trump’s Human Trafficking Record Is Fake News

This article was originally published by Foreign Policy, in partnership with The Fuller Project, on June 20th, 2019, by Fuller Project Correspondent Jenna Krajeski.

Shadows of migrants on the wall at a shelter in Mexicali, Mexico, en route to the United States on Nov. 15, 2018. Luis Boza/VIEWPress/Corbis via Getty Images

The U.S. government has just released a highly anticipated human rights report that whitewashes the effects of its own policies.

Since taking office in 2017, the Trump administration has claimed that its human rights agenda centers on human trafficking. “My Administration continues to work to drive out the darkness human traffickers cast upon our world,” President Donald Trump wrote in a 2017 executive order declaring January 2018 National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In a Washington Post op-ed, Ivanka Trump echoed her father’s claims that human trafficking was one of the government’s top priorities. “President Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionist movement gave America a unique inheritance: a principled commitment to fight slavery in all its pernicious forms,” she wrote. “This administration is continuing the fight to end modern slavery and using every tool at its disposal to achieve that critical goal.”

But when it comes to identifying the reality of trafficking inside the United States and fighting it, these claims are contradicted by many of the administration’s policies and much of its rhetoric. In many key ways, the Trump administration’s approach to trafficking in the United States has made matters worse for the most vulnerable communities. Anti-trafficking experts now worry that the government, by failing to recognize its failings, could do lasting damage to what has traditionally been considered the country’s top human rights report, the latest edition of which was released Thursday.

The State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is a collaboration between a designated office in Washington and local U.S. embassies that evaluates government responses to trafficking around the world. It provides a detailed narrative and assigns a tier ranking to governments. (Tier 1 is the highest and Tier 3 the lowest, possibly incurring sanctions.) Over the years, the TIP Report has been seen to surpass the International Religious Freedom Report and the general human rights report in impact and authority. “It’s the power of comparison that the report provides that is so effective,” said Judith Kelley, a professor at Duke University and the author of Scorecard Diplomacy: Grading States to Influence Their Reputation and Behavior. “Local embassies are very engaged leading up to its publication.”
The report has been published since 2001, after the Trafficking Victims Prevention Act (TVPA) was passed by Congress in 2000 and became the gold standard of anti-trafficking legislation. The United States started ranking itself during President Barack Obama’s administration to lend more credibility to the report. “Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton said rightfully if we’re going to point the finger around the world, we need to point at ourselves, too,” said Alison Friedman, then the TIP office deputy director. The office consulted with nongovernmental organizations and legislators; assessed funding, victim services, and law enforcement response; and analyzed methods of data collection and prevention. In the end, the United States received a Tier 1 ranking, and it has never since been downgraded.
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