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Can Victims of Human Trafficking Get Help to Stay in the U.S?

Arms of Victims of Human Trafficking Tied with Ropes

Human trafficking is getting more and more attention in the news and in other media these days, raising the awareness of people who thought that slavery was something that took place only in another time or a country far away. In reality, human trafficking is a significant problem in the United States today, in many communities where people could not imagine such a thing would take place. About a third, perhaps more, of the victims of human trafficking are foreign nationals.

Human trafficking is defined as the practice of illegally moving people from one country or area to another, usually for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation for money. This description conjures up images of kidnapping, but human traffickers often trick their victims into cooperating. By the time the victim understands what is truly happening, they are often powerless to stop it. A common scenario involves a trafficker offering someone, often a girl or women, work in the United States as a nanny or housekeeper, with the prospect of being able to send money back to their struggling family in their home country, and someday becoming a U.S. citizen.

Many people leap at this opportunity to improve their lives and those of their families. Traffickers may obtain fraudulent passports and visas for them, or fraudulently procure legitimate documents Once transported to the United States, however, they find themselves without resources or documentation, working brutal hours for nothing or almost nothing, or forced into sex work. They are told that if they go to the authorities, they will be deported, or that they or their families will be harmed. In fear, they remain silent and victimized, often for years. But there is help available.

Immigration Help for Non-U.S. Victims of Trafficking

Foreign nationals who are victims of human trafficking may legally remain in the U.S. by obtaining Continued Presence status, or by being granted T or U visa nonimmigrant status.

Continued Presence (CP) temporary immigration status is authorized under the Trafficking Victims Prevention Act. It allows victims of labor or sex trafficking to remain in the United States on a temporary basis during an ongoing investigation into the human trafficking-related crimes of which they were victims. If approved by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), this status is initially granted for a one-year term and can be renewed in one-year increments, and allows trafficking victims to live and work in the United States. However, if it is determined after CP was granted that the recipient was not a victim of human trafficking or a potential witness, the status can be revoked.

There are also two visas that may be available to trafficking victims through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS): U Visas and T Visas, both nonimmigrant visas.

T visas require that the recipient is or was a victim of trafficking, and is in the United States, certain territories, or at a port of entry as a result of the trafficking. The applicant must comply with reasonable requests from law enforcement to assist with an investigation or prosecution of trafficking (unless under the age of eighteen, or too severely physically or emotionally traumatized to cooperate). Applicants for T visas must also show that they would suffer extreme hardship, involving severe harm, if deported from the United States.

Applicants for U Visas must be victims of "qualifying criminal activity" who have suffered severe physical or mental abuse as a result of that activity. They must also be able to provide information about the criminal activity; if unable to provide this information due to being under sixteen years of age or having a disability, certain other persons may be able to convey the information on their behalf. In order to qualify for a U Visa, the applicant must be likely to be helpful to law enforcement, or have already helped law enforcement, in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. The crime itself must have occurred in the United States or have violated the laws of this country.

Applicants for both U and T Visas must be admissible to the United States; if they are not, they may apply for waivers to enter the country as a nonimmigrant.

Cautions for Trafficking Victims in the U.S.

One way that human traffickers control and exploit their victims is to instill the fear that they themselves have been a part of criminal activity and, if they report their abuse, will be charged with a crime and/or deported as a result. Unfortunately, these threats are not always empty. It is not uncommon for non-citizen victims of trafficking to be arrested, detained, and sometimes deported despite the laws that exist for their protection. Common reasons for arrest include prostitution, working without a visa, theft, and practicing massage without a license.

If at all possible, contact an experienced Maryland immigration attorney to pursue any of the legal avenues for remaining in the United States, or if you or a loved one has been arrested or detained and need to seek legal protection.

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Categories: Immigration Law