Fighting Human Trafficking Abroad, But Not at Home

By Dan Cadman on February 3, 2016

On February 1, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 400, the "Trafficking Prevention in Foreign Affairs Contracting Act", which will go next to the Senate for consideration.

It is modest in scope, requiring the Department of State (DOS) and Agency for International Development (AID) to report to the Congress within 180 days of enactment on their respective efforts to define contractor recruiting fees, and explain how they will enforce provisions that prohibit the levying of such fees. The fees refer to amounts paid by employees of DOS and AID contractors to obtain their jobs — often through shady middle-man recruiting agencies.

The bill came about because the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that many workers — especially foreign nationals working for DOS or AID or the Department of Defense (DOD) in third countries — were taken advantage of by fees so high that it put them into a situation of peonage where it would be near impossible to pay off the debt simply for obtaining the job. The GAO reported that this abuse was particularly prevalent in Middle Eastern countries. (Think, for instance, of the Gulf Arab states with such small native populations that there are more foreign workers in their midst than there are citizens; many of which come from poor environments in third-world countries such as Bangladesh, the Philippines, etc.)

GAO recommended that the three departments develop specific guidelines and definitions to ensure that workers in U.S. government projects are not recruited under such conditions. DOD agreed, but DOS and AID demurred, noting that federal acquisition regulations already prohibit such practices. GAO asserted, however, that the regulations don't provide enough clarity to ensure that the U.S. government is employing a clean, un-indentured workforce. Congress stepped into this impasse by requiring DOS and AID to do what they resisted and provide the previously noted reports.

I have no particular problem with what the House of Representatives has done; it is in its own way important, however modest the bill is.

What is disturbing is that Congress finds the will to act in protecting vulnerable workers from developing countries abroad (many of whom will continue to be extremely vulnerable outside the purview of U.S. contract jobs, especially in Middle Eastern countries whose cultural sensitivities are different than ours, to put it delicately), yet has no courage to act on what is, essentially, a government-sanctioned pipeline of smuggled and trafficked aliens surging our borders who are promptly released for resettlement, or placed with putative family members — some of whom have proven to be nothing of the sort, but are instead the same morally reprehensible types of contractors and recruiters that the GAO singled out. (See here and here.)

If the intent of this bill is to show that we practice abroad what we practice at home, then Congress has failed — ironically, because of the double standard at work in which this administration has permitted alien smugglers to ply their trade at full bore on our southern border, as well as in the interior of the United States.