~ Thursday, June 25, 2015
Thank you. It’s an incredible honor to join my colleagues today -- Attorney General Lynch and Daniel Ragsdale of the Department of Homeland Security. And it’s an honor not only to mark the success of this program so far, but also to announce its continuation and expansion.
This is just another example of innovative partnerships across the federal government helping to solve some of our most troubling and seemingly intractable problems. The challenges we face as a nation and a government demand unprecedented levels of interagency collaboration, and that’s exactly what we’re doing with the ACTeams.
We’re working together as never before, bringing our respective departments’ collective resources and expertise to bear, imploding stovepipes and building a whole even greater than the sum of our individual parts.
I’m proud to have been a part of our government’s increased commitment to stopping human trafficking, both during my time here with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and now as the Secretary of Labor. It’s been incredibly rewarding to watch our early efforts grow -- from a small and dedicated group of civil rights lawyers to a broad-based, comprehensive enforcement program.
The ACTeam Initiative has become a successful, cutting-edge federal law enforcement effort over the last years. Under Phase I, we’ve seen a huge increase in filed trafficking cases, prosecutions and convictions in ACTeam districts.
The Department of Labor will remain a vigorous partner in Phase II. Although we don’t investigate Trafficking in Person cases directly, we have an important role to play. We have worked over the last year to develop and implement a robust mechanism for detection and referral of potential trafficking cases to law enforcement as appropriate. We will continue to help calculate restitution amounts for trafficking victims and to partner with others around employment and training services for survivors. This last function is so important – survivors of this horrible experience need to have the opportunity to find work – work that pays a fair wage, work that comes with real rights and protections – so they can build a brighter future.
This is about people first and foremost – people who’ve been coerced, enslaved, stripped of their most basic human rights. Labor trafficking affects workers who are vulnerable to exploitation for a number of reasons, who may not know their workplace rights and may be afraid to raise their voices. It reduces human beings to mere commodities, placing a dollar value on their humanity. I’ve been so moved in my meetings with survivors of trafficking. One woman told me her experience was like being “in a room with no windows and doors.” They’ve suffered some of the worst indignities imaginable, but they have an unbreakable spirit, a resilience and determination to rebuild their lives. It’s our job to help them rebuild. We have to be there to catch them before they fall through the cracks, providing the range of services they need.
Specifically, at the Labor Department, our Wage and Hour Division has begun completing law enforcement declarations for T Visa applications, which provide immigration relief to certain victims of human trafficking who help law enforcement in the detection, investigation and/or prosecution of trafficking crimes.
Our Wage and Hour Division also continues to provide law enforcement certifications for applications for U Visas, which provide immigration relief to victims of certain “qualifying criminal activities” who are willing to cooperate with law enforcement. We’ve expanded those qualifying criminal activities we will consider for U Visa certification to now include instances where we detect extortion, forced labor and fraud in foreign labor contracting.
As part of enhanced coordination with the Department of Justice, we have also begun receiving referrals for potential violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. This is important because we’re sometimes able to bring civil cases under the laws we enforce, with a lower burden of proof, where the Department of Justice is unable to bring criminal trafficking charges. This is one of the ways we as a civil enforcement agency can support law enforcement efforts against perpetrators of these crimes, obtaining back wages and liquidated damages for victims.
I think I speak for everyone here when I say that trafficking is a blight on our shared humanity -- a contemptible, unspeakable act worthy of condemnation and prosecution. The Labor Department is committed to working with its federal partners toward the eradication of human trafficking – in the name of human rights, the rule of law and the dignity of work. I’m excited to be a member of this team and optimistic about our continued success.