On October 4, 2018, the Jewish Community Against Sex Trafficking (JCAST) Chicago co-sponsored a highly informative, well-attended interfaith program at the First Presbyterian Church of Deerfield along with the Highland Park/Highwood Legal Clinic, National Council of Jewish Women Chicago North Shore (NCJW), the National Immigrant Justice Center, and the North Shore (IL) Chapter of The Links. Presenters from the Legal Clinic and National Immigrant Justice Center joined with Lake County Assistant State’s Attorney, Fred Day and JCAST staff Gayle Nelson to educate attendees on the intersection of immigration, domestic violence and sex trafficking including risk factors, warning signs, barriers to seeking help as well as legal and social services support available to victims, including the availability of government-issued T-Visas and U-Visas.
Although, current events helped shape the discussion, this is not a new concern. NCJW has a history of combating sex trafficking. Many NCJW women volunteered at Ellis Island in the early 20th Century to redirect new immigrants from criminals and traffickers interested in connecting them with brothels to new opportunities in America.
Sex trafficking and domestic violence are overlapping criminal activities since both involve physical, emotional and mental abuse – the main difference is the financial gain for the traffickers or pimps. JCAST often references the family relationships that can exist between trafficker and victim. As with domestic violence, traffickers are often family members and the majority of victims and survivors are women who do not report their abuse.
Survivors of sex trafficking often face deportation, homelessness, financial insecurity and threats of violence against themselves and loved ones. Sadly, victims are often sexually and physically abused as children and therefore “normalize” their situation and may not see themselves as the victims at all.
What are the legal remedies available to immigrants who are victims of trafficking or domestic violence in the United States? Under the federal Violence Against Women Act, 10,000 U Visa’s are available to those who can prove that they’ve suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a victim of a qualifying criminal activity, including sex trafficking that occurs in the U.S. , possess knowledge of this criminal activity, and be helpful to the investigation or prosecution of such activity. Sadly, the demand is substantially higher than the visas available.
Five thousand T Visa’s are also available to survivors each year with benefits including 4 year protection against deportation, 4 year work visa, path to residency, and state and federal public benefits such as food stamps, cash and medical insurance. Eligibility for a T-Visa entails being victim of a severe form of trafficking, personally filing account with law enforcement, compliance with reasonable request for assistance in investigation or prosecution of crime, and suffering of extreme hardship including unusual and severe harm if deported from the United States. Unfortunately, only 14% of available T-Visas were issued in 2017. Barriers to applying include fear of testifying against one’s trafficker and fear of deportation. In addition, trafficking victims are likely not aware of these visas and require support in applying due to language and legal barriers.
The chart below, created by the National Immigrant Justice Center, provides an overview of the root causes of human trafficking, demonstrating factors that might push an individual towards becoming a victim and factors that might allow a trafficker to capitalize on the desperate circumstances of the potential victim.
Unfortunately, many women, young adults and even children, who immigrate and seek asylum and refuge in the U.S continue to be tricked into labor and sex trafficking. Shockingly, the current administration has removed domestic and gang violence as criteria for seeking asylum and yet immigrants and refugees within our borders are still quite vulnerable. With an unprecedented and ever-growing number of children being detained at our borders rather than being united with family members, including over 2,000 at the Tornillo Detention Center in Texas under the care of employees for whom a national fingerprint background check requirement has been waived, we must be vigilant and do our best to protect these young people from abusers and traffickers. While Tornillo is now gaining the attention of the press, and national organizing is underway to demand closure of the center, led locally by Congregation Hakafa of Glencoe, these children and countless others like them are vulnerable both in the camp and upon release. To learn more, please read “US waived FBI checks on staff at growing teen migrant camp” posted by the AP Press on November 27, 2018.
What support services are available in the Chicagoland area? The National Immigrant Justice Center of Heartland Alliance and the Highland Park-Highwood Legal Aid Center provide social and legal services and can lead educational sessions for other professionals. Services for trafficking survivors may include shelter or housing, case management, public benefits, therapy and counseling.
All of us need to urge our elected officials to sponsor and support legislation that aids survivors and encourages victims to step forward while punishing the criminal activity of traffickers, pimps, and “Johns” or purchasers of sex. And we can continue to educate our families, communities, law enforcement, social service professionals on the prevalence of sex trafficking in our backyards.
If you suspect that someone you know is a victim of any form of human trafficking, please call or share the National Human Trafficking Hotline contact information: 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733.
Written by Beth Gordon, MS, CCC-SLP
JCAST Chicago Steering Committee
Member of NCJWCNS & Congregation Hakafa