House passes bills to prevent human trafficking

The House on Thursday passed a package of legislation to combat human trafficking.

Passage of the eight bills comes amid the debate over how to address the surge of child migrants crossing the border and amending a 2008 human trafficking law.

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The House also passed five bills to boost law enforcement efforts against human trafficking in May. Those bills had gained momentum after the extremist group Boko Haram abducted more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls and sparked international outrage.

Both Democrats and Republicans said the measures would help prevent human trafficking in the U.S. and internationally.

"The crisis of human trafficking is ruinous to the lives of its victims, many of whom are drawn from the ranks of the most vulnerable in our society. This crisis has touched nearly every corner of the globe, and even exists here in the United States," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said. "It is important that we do everything that we can to bring an end to this illicit industry."

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said the measures would prevent victims of sex trafficking from being treated as criminals.

"I am grateful that we will now have a system where these children will be recognized not as criminals, but will be recognized through the state child welfare system to identify and help these children that have been taken by this terrible industry and save their lives," Jackson Lee said. "The bills on the floor today will save the lives of our children."

One of the bills, H.R. 2283, passed by voice vote, would require the secretary of State to report to Congress within 90 days on how the assistant secretary positions are allocated and whether any should be designed to head efforts to combat human trafficking. 

Another measure, H.R. 4449, passed by voice vote, would require human trafficking awareness training for certain foreign service personnel, including ambassadors, deputy chiefs of mission and embassy reporting officers. Annual briefings would be required at each diplomatic post abroad on human trafficking in the area. 

A third bill, H.R. 5116, passed by voice vote, would require the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to implement a human trafficking awareness program for personnel within the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection.

Meanwhile, H.R. 5135, passed by voice vote, would direct the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking to issue a report on the best strategies to prevent children from becoming human trafficking victims. It would also expand Justice Department grants to go toward programs that provide housing to trafficking victims. 

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp's (R-Mich.) bill, H.R. 4980, passed by voice vote. It would require states to establish policies for child welfare agencies providing assistance to victims of human trafficking. Additionally, it would add new awards for states that increase adoptions of older children in foster care.

Camp said the provisions of his bill would help increase adoptions.

"Finding a forever family is the goal of this legislation, and forever homes are possible," Camp said.

A measure passed by voice vote, H.R. 5076, would permit the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to use current grant funding to train staff on the effects of human trafficking among homeless youth. 

The final measure, H.R. 5111, passed 409-0, would modify the Missing Children’s Assistance Act to replace the term "child prostitution" with "child sex trafficking, including child prostitution."

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) urged the Senate to consider the House-passed bills to prevent human trafficking.

"I hope the Senate will take up the human trafficking bills the House passes in a timely manner so our country can strengthen its approach to ending this terrible plague of human trafficking that has no place in the 21st century," Hoyer said.