Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on New National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking

The White House

Via Teleconference

(December 2, 2021)

5:05 P.M. EST

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And good evening, everyone. And thank you for joining us for this background briefing on the soon-to-be released National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. This call will be on background, attributable to “senior administration officials,” and the call will be embargoed until 9:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow morning.

Not for attribution but for everyone’s awareness, for those on the call, our speakers are going to be [senior administration officials].

To start with, I’ll turn it over to my colleague, who will give you a preview of the revised National Action Plan.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you very much, and good evening to everyone. Grateful for your time, grateful to you for joining us for a preview of the revised National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.

Globally, an estimated 25 million people are subjected to human trafficking and forced labor, which is responsible for an estimated $150 billion annually in illicit profits.

This is an issue that Joe Biden has a long history (inaudible). He supported the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, and he continues to be a key supporter of federal anti-trafficking efforts. And that is part of why, with this Action Plan, we are renewing our commitment to keeping the fight to end human trafficking at the forefront of our national security agenda.

This plan updates the previous one that was released in October 2020. And I’ll come to the process of updating the plan in a moment, but, first, I want to get straight to what is in it.

The National Action Plan is built around the foundational pillars of U.S. and, really, global anti-trafficking efforts. Four pillars: prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships.

The first three “Ps” — prevention, protection, and prosecution — are reflected in the protocol to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, which supplements the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Those same three “Ps” are also reflected in our own domestic Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as amended.

In addition, that fourth “P” — for “partnership” — serves as a complementary way to achieve progress across the other three “Ps,” and to do so by enlisting all segments of society in the critical fight against human trafficking.

Under the first pillar — the prevention pillar — the National Action Plan presents 13 priority actions. They range from strengthening efforts to identify, prevent, and address human trafficking in global supply chains to enhancing outreach and community-coordinated responses to human trafficking.

Moving to the second pillar — protection — in that part of the Action Plan, the U.S. government reiterates its commitment to offering a diversity of interventions, of services, and of support to protect and to help victims of human trafficking.

The National Action Plan presents 17 priority actions under this second pillar that range from identifying and engaging with victims in an equitable and culturally competent manner to improving our support for and our assistance to victims of human trafficking.

The third pillar — prosecution — is quite appropriately focused on dismantling human trafficking networks and holding accountable traffickers.

This pillar presents 12 priority actions — from building the capacity of law enforcement, to investigate and prosecute human trafficking, to enhancing efforts to bring traffickers to justice by deploying a broader range of noncriminal tools. Those tools can include civil forfeiture actions, sanctions, export controls, and more.

Finally, the fourth pillar — partnerships — notes that in order to support the first three pillars, we need to work together to improve our institutional capacity to counter human trafficking.

So, this pillar — pillar four — presents 19 priority actions organized under five principles. Those relate to strengthening our understanding of human trafficking, enhancing information sharing on human trafficking, incorporating survivor input, conducting outreach to external partners, and evaluating our authorities and our resources to address human trafficking.

Speaking of pillar four and the importance of partnerships in all of this work, we heard from survivors and from advocates during the development of the initial National Action Plan in 2019. And it is essential to us and we look forward to continuing to collaborate, consult, and strengthen our engagement with this community in order to ensure that survivor input is consistently incorporated into federal policies and programs. That doesn’t end with the release of the 2019 Action Plan; it doesn’t end with the release of this updated plan. That continues.

Turning to the process of updating the National Action Plan, over the past eight months, National Security Council staff here at the White House — in close coordination with our colleagues here at the Gender Policy Council and the Domestic Policy Council and working closely with colleagues at over 20 relevant departments and agencies, some of which you will hear from momentarily — began the process of updating the National Action Plan to integrate the President’s core commitment to gender and racial equity.

It’s a commitment reflected in Executive Order 13985, which was signed on day one of this administration, and reflected in Executive Order 14020, signed on March 8th of this year.

Updating the plan also involved paying close attention to core commitments on the part of this administration to workers’ rights; to fair trade and ending forced labor in global supply chains; to support for underserved communities; and to ensuring safe, orderly, and humane migration, including by improving the screening process to more effectively identify victims of human trafficking.

Finally — and to emphasize this — we are grateful for the community leaders, the service providers, the businesses, the grassroots activists, and the individuals with lived experience of human trafficking across the United States and around the world who continue to forge innovative anti-trafficking strategies and to push various forms of government to improve responses to human trafficking.

We are grateful for the opportunity to speak to this release of the revised National Action Plan, and we look forward to implementing the 61 priority actions it contains over the years to come.

And now, it’s my pleasure to turn the conversation over to my colleague. Over to you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you so much. And thank you to all of our colleagues at the White House who supported the update of this National Action Plan and to President Biden for his strong leadership on this issue.

This plan calls on all of us to strengthen our anti-trafficking efforts and enhance coordination in key areas. The State Department plays an important role in combating human trafficking. We lead the government’s bilateral and multilateral diplomacy on this important issue around the world, provide foreign assistance to build sustainable capacity of governments and civil society, and serve as one of the four federal law enforcement agencies with a significant responsibility to investigate human trafficking.

The Secretary of State serves as chair of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, a longstanding Cabinet-level entity composed of 20 federal departments and agencies, including the State Department. These agencies are committed to implementing action items in this plan consistent with their roles and authorities, individually and in collaboration.

Earlier this year, in accordance with the National Action Plan, we established two new ad hoc working groups: one to develop best practices implementing screening forms and protocols to help federal officials who could encounter a human trafficking victim in the course of their regular duties, and another to analyze the rights and protections granted to temporary employment-based visa holders and develop solutions for addressing gaps.

The plan also calls on agencies to integrate an equity-based approach into their anti-trafficking work. And the Senior Policy Operating Group is in the process of developing a plan for integrating racial equity throughout interagency anti-trafficking efforts.

In addition, increasing collaboration between the Department’s Diplomatic Security Service and other federal and local law enforcement agencies will help us continue building the U.S. government’s collective capacity to pursue human trafficking cases and promptly connect victims to protection services.

The National Action Plan also reinforces the urgency of the Department’s ongoing work to engage with the private sector and governments, including across our own interagency, to prevent and address forced labor in global supply chains, including those for public procurement.

Finally, in alignment with the National Action Plan’s principle of strengthening federal anti-trafficking efforts by incorporating survivor input, State has continued to increasingly seek input from survivors. We are integrating their expertise into our policies, programs, and products through continuous engagement with our Human Trafficking Expert Consultant Network that comprises individuals with lived experience of human trafficking and other subject matter experts.

For example, network consultants developed resources on trauma-informed considerations for anti-trafficking efforts in the COVID-19 environment, which my office was proud to launch a few weeks ago and is now available on our website.

These are just a few examples of our commitment to improving our federal responses to human trafficking and how the National Action Plan underscores the Department’s longstanding work on this important issue.

As Secretary Blinken reflected this summer on the work ahead of us to combat human trafficking, the Department will do everything in its power to revitalize its commitment and strengthen efforts to address the issue globally. The Department is proud to be part of drafting, updating and implementing the National Action Plan, which is a powerful piece of that commitment.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you so much. Next, we’ll turn it over to [senior administration official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi. Good evening, everyone. And thank you, [senior administration officials]. It’s an honor to be here.

We at the Department of Justice investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes. We also fund victim services; we’re the largest funder of victim services in the United States for human trafficking victims. And we of course fund and support state and local law enforcement in a variety of areas, including in their efforts to identify, investigate, and prosecute human trafficking crimes.

And you know, since the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was enacted in 2000, combating human trafficking has been a top priority for the Department of Justice consistently, and we’ve worked tirelessly to bring traffickers to justice, but also to protect the rights of the vulnerable victims of this crime.

We adopt a victim-centered, trauma-informed model in all aspects of our human trafficking work. And I think this plan really carries that forward.

Since the enactment of the TVPA — the Trafficking Victims Protection Act — we have charged almost 5,000 traffickers, and we’ve dismantled transnational trafficking networks, and we funded victim assistance programs to stabilize and empower survivors as they reclaim their lives.

And in those 5,000 prosecutions, what we have learned is that we must have strong partnerships. Because this crime, whether it is a case of sex trafficking on a city corner or transnational sex or labor trafficking, requires close coordination in partnership with our federal partners, with our state and locals, with the nongovernmental organizations and faith-based groups who support victims, with the private sector, and, of course, with the survivors themselves.

And one of the reasons I think we at the Department and across the government are excited by this National Action Plan is that it has brought together the subject matter experts — who, over these 20 years, have been doing these cases and have been working in this area — to lift up and advance what works and identify what we could be doing better, and to strengthen the partnerships among all of us to do this work.

The Department of Justice plays a role in all four pillars. But I’m going to focus really on the third pillar, which is the prosecution pillar, and how we work closely with our key detection and enforcement partners to combat human trafficking.

And so, as I said, I think this plan is great because it takes what we know and enhances it. And some examples of that are: We, over the last couple years, have piloted these anti-trafficking coordination teams, which are ACT teams, where we partner with headquarters and with federal officials across the United States to do training and enhancement and then co-counsel and co-prosecute cases to develop capacity locally to identify and prosecute these cases. That was a pilot program that, through the National Action Plan, we’re going to look to expand and enhance.

We’ve also, in the past, funded task forces, and we’ve learned a lot about operating task forces and by coming together and working with our partners across the government. Part of our mission in implementing pillar three of this plan is to strengthen our federally funded human trafficking task forces with what we’ve learned.

We’re also identifying some gaps that we think we could do better. Some examples of that are: We have, for the last couple of years, been prosecuting transnational sex trafficking cases between the United States and Mexico. And through the National Action Plan, by coordinating with people like the Department of Commerce and other members of the Department of Labor, we’re going to use intelligence-driven targeting to advance these investigations and prosecutions in a way we hadn’t been doing before.

And I’m also very excited — one thing that we’re going to be doing is we’re going to initiate a coordinated interagency labor trafficking detection and enforcement effort to look at labor trafficking threats that are being identified by government agencies across the United States to try to really get at the problem of labor trafficking in the United States.

And finally, as I said at opening, we’re also — we are the largest funder of services to human trafficking victims in the United States. And through the plan, we’re going to work with HUD and HHS to improve safe housing options for victims of human trafficking so they can have stability after they are freed from their modern-day slavery.

So we look forward to working with the partners on the call and across the government in implementing this plan over the coming months and years.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And now we’ll turn it over to our final speaker, [senior administration official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. And thank you to all the partners on the call.

Good evening. I’m here today as [redacted]. CCHD mission is to advance counter human trafficking law enforcement operations, protect victims, and enhance prevention efforts by aligning DHS’s capabilities and expertise.

We are harnessing the vast talent, authorities, and resources of the entire Department to continuously improve every aspect of DHS’s anti-human trafficking efforts.

It is this drive to do better at DHS that makes me proud to be here today as the Biden-Harris administration releases an updated National Action Plan to combat human trafficking.

DHS contributed to the development of the plan and plays a significant role in leading and supporting many of the priority actions.

As outlined in the National Action Plan, we will build DHS capacity and bolster partnerships with industry to prohibit forced labor in supply chains; develop improvements to prevent human trafficking of foreign workers and students; strengthen efforts by DHS personnel to identify and respond to human trafficking they may encounter in daily work; improve access to and the integrity of immigration relief and assistance programs for victims of human trafficking; increase coordination with law enforcement agencies and the social media and technology industry to hold traffickers accountable and dismantle human trafficking networks; and enhance initiatives that combat forced labor and traffickers’ illicit use of financial systems.

DHS is already hard at work on these priority actions. This past year, CBP made significant strides to prevent merchandise produced with forced labor abroad from being imported into the United States.

Homeland Security Investigations year-end stats show an increase in human trafficking investigations, arrests, and victim identification.

New Continued Presence requests increased to the highest they have been in 10 years, and USCIS is now issuing Bona Fide Determinations for U visa applicants, which protects them from removal and provides access to work authorization much sooner.

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations now has human trafficking points of contact in every office and has collaborated with Blue Campaign on posters and materials to distribute. Additionally, Blue Campaign and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center have reached thousands to ensure we all are better equipped to recognize and respond to human trafficking.

And last, but certainly not least, Secretary Mayorkas directed DHS components to incorporate a victim-centered approach into all policies, programs, and activities governing DHS interactions with victims of crime.

DHS is committed to bringing human traffickers to justice, protecting victims of sex trafficking and forced labor, and preventing these terrible crimes from occurring.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And with that, we’ll open it up to Q&A.

Q (Inaudible) looking at kind of a new form of human trafficking. Like, how concerned is the administration about politicians using human trafficking for political gain or sometimes called the “weaponizing of migration,” as Belarus’ Lukashenko has done to — with, you know, addressing his beef with the EU? And how is — how’s the United States, how’s the — how is the Biden administration facing that kind of human trafficking challenge?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, thank you for the question. I’m going to let my State Department colleague tackle that in a moment.

All I would say is that, look, for that which qualifies as trafficking, the sense that this has just a human cost that is severe, that is intense is part of what motivated, frankly, the release of this new action plan.

And, indeed, one of the primary updates to it is to be really victim-centric and particularly focused on vulnerable communities in how it approaches the work — including ensuring that victims are treated respectfully, don’t suffer the costs for reporting crimes, and get the treatment, the services, the respect that they deserve — which only makes those who would somehow contribute to the practice of trafficking — whether it’s for political gain or, frankly, for any other reason — an additional part of an already dire problem.

And so, I think we come at this with a focus not so much on particular forms of manipulating a political benefit or gain, but from the perspective of wanting to ensure that those who suffer from this — the victims who pay the cost of it — are identified, are well treated, are well supported, and, of course, that those who actually engage in the practice are identified, investigated appropriately, and brought to justice.

But let me see if my State Department colleague would like to flesh that out a bit.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, sure. Thank you. You’ve definitely touched on, I think, some of the key issues in terms of keeping the focus on trafficking victims. One thing that we emphasize both within the United States and as we engage governments and other partners around the world is the importance of raising awareness and educating people about what human trafficking actually is and what it is not.

Very often, well-intentioned people — or perhaps, you know, sometimes less well-intentioned people — conflate and confuse the difference between migrant smuggling, for example, and human trafficking.

And we want to make sure that the best information about what is actually happening is available to policymakers, as well as practitioners and people who are on the frontlines that can really be out there helping identify people who are truly suffering from human trafficking — identify them and get them the care that they need, as [senior administration official] just mentioned.

And one of the things that we highlighted in this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report that was released in July is the damage that can be done when misinformation is out there and leads sometimes to people seeking information or sharing information that detracts from the victims that truly need the care that they’re getting and the hotline and other service providers being able to provide the care that they need to the victims that deserve it.

So, we definitely believe that sharing good information and raising awareness are really critical, including in situations like the Belarus context that you mentioned in your question so that we all can really focus on the horrible crime that human trafficking is and getting the care to the victims that need it.

On the question of politicization, I will also just add that we’re very fortunate in the United States that the issue of human trafficking has long enjoyed very strong, enduring bipartisan support and has been critical to the success of the U.S. government’s response to human trafficking.

Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And let me just add one thing, which is — as you, I think, heard from both of us — that the real focus in this Action Plan, the real focus, in some ways, in this conversation is on victims and how to build on the tradition we just mentioned of ensuring that the U.S. government identifies them, supports them, provides them with services.

But given that the question mentioned specifically Belarus, let me just add some ways, from more of a foreign policy perspective, that the U.S. government has condemned the Lukashenko’s regime exploitation of vulnerable migrants from other countries, as well as the regime’s orchestration of migrant smuggling into the EU.

And it’s particularly worth mentioning today that it was this morning that we unveiled sanctions to hold that regime accountable in conjunction with European allies and partners.

Back to you, [senior administration official].

Q Well, thank you for doing this and taking my question. I have two quick questions on the Southern border. The first one is, this week, the administration also announced an agreement with Mexico to reimplement MPP and also some brand new opportunities and a new framework for development cooperation to address the root causes of irregular migration from Northern Central America. The fact that you are announcing this today, is it just a coincidence or there’s been coordination to make all these three announcements this week?

And my second question is: Is Title 42 still in place with expedited removals of individuals? Might this play against the efforts of the administration to investigate cases through the testimony of victims that end up being removed in an expedited way?

Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks. Thank you for the questions. I think I’ll probably let my colleagues, here, who focus more on those issues follow up separately, which might be helpful.

All I would say here is that the focus of this Action Plan, the focus of the discussion today is really on tackling the scourge of human trafficking and, in doing so, in the context of this administration’s approach to issues at the border, which is an approach consistently grounded in safe, orderly, and humane migration. And, of course, identifying those who are made to suffer as victims of human trafficking is critical to all facets of that.

So, I think for these purposes, I might — I might just leave it there.

Q Hi, thank you so much for taking my question. You mentioned that DHS has made — or, I guess, everybody in administration has made significant strides to prevent merchandise produced with forced labor from coming into the country. Do you have any more concrete numbers on that? And specifically, if that’s the — I know there are certain orders, you know, from different countries regarding forced labor. Is that something that you can specify on, you know, for example, how much merchandise from the area of Xinjiang was being stopped, et cetera? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: [Senior administration official], do you want to chime in on that area? Do we still have you on the line?

MODERATOR: It appears his line has dropped.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Why don’t we let — why don’t we follow up with you on those good questions. It is a key piece of this, and it’s one in which DHS, including CBP, does important work. And I’m not sure exactly how granular the details of the statistics might be. But I’d like us to be able to follow up with you on that question.

Q Thank you.

Q Hello, I wonder — a couple of questions, if I may, but I’ll just begin with this: How do faith-based groups play a part in the solution? I heard you say they support victims. What other things do they do?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’m happy to chime in on this one before others. This is [senior administration official] from the State Department.

Faith-based groups can play a very helpful role in a lot of different ways. They certainly can be helpful and often do you provide services to trafficking victims, both in the United States and throughout the world.

In their relationships of trust and access that they build with many trafficking victims and vulnerable populations in communities that might become trafficking victims, they often play a very helpful role in identifying trafficking victims and sometimes playing sort of a connecting role between trafficking victims and government or other service providers in helping build that trust or make those connections, referring them to other care that they can’t provide. That’s certainly, one, I think, very important role.

Faith-based organizations also can play an important role in helping all of us better understand the nature and trends of human trafficking, as well as the challenges that service providers and others face in tackling the crime.

So, they certainly play an important informational role and also can play an important — an important role in helping influence both governments in calling their attention and urging them to make important reforms, including tackling some forms of human trafficking that may be seen as a cultural tradition, for example, forced begging among some religious students in some parts of Northern Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, for example.

So, they can play an important role in all kinds of ways and are really an important partner in that fourth pillar of partnership for all of us as we work to combat this crime and take care of the victims.

Q And how do you make a difference in countries that are hostile to the United States?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are two; I think the fourth pillar of partnership is critically important. The U.S. government can’t do this alone, and our ability to urge and prompt other governments to step up and fulfill their international commitments and do right by their own citizens and others in their countries, in some cases, is limited.

And there we work with partners that may be more effective in those countries — whether that’s the private sector or faith-based communities, civil society. International organizations very often have different relationships with some governments, as do like-minded partners. So, we really try to tailor our approaches in a given country.

Obviously, we are not always successful. There are some enduring challenges in some countries, but we certainly try to use the variety of partnerships, and encourage and arm others so that they too can be effective advocates on this issue.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And with that, we have to end the call. We’re running out of time.

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