NEW YORK – Ahead of a House vote on a bipartisan human trafficking prevention bill, American bishops are calling on Catholics to urge their representatives to pass the measure, saying it is “critical for continuing and bolstering our nation’s efforts to eradicate human trafficking.”
H.R. 5856, the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2023 is on the House schedule and will be considered in the week ahead, according to a Feb. 7 update on the federal government’s legislation tracker.
The American bishops, through their conference, as well as other Catholic leaders, have endorsed the bill for years. Most recently on Feb. 1, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, the U.S. Bishops’ Conference migration chair urged Congress “to pass the bill without further delay.”
“It is incumbent upon all of us to unite in promoting efforts that prevent the evil of human trafficking,” Seitz said in a statement. “I join our Holy Father in inviting the faithful and all people of good will to uphold and affirm human dignity and grow in solidarity with those who are vulnerable to exploitation and have been impacted by this terrible evil of modern-day slavery.”
The Feb. 8 request from the USCCB for Catholics to urge their Representatives to pass the bill came on the International Day of Prayer and Awareness Against Human Trafficking, which is also the feast day of Saint Josephine Bakhita, the patroness of human trafficking survivors.
Bakhita was abducted in the 1870s in Sudan at the age of seven. She endured slavery and trafficking. She was eventually freed from captivity in Italy and joined the Canossian Daughters of Charity.
Saint John Paul II canonized Bakhita in 2000, calling her “a shining advocate of genuine emancipation.”
“The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights,” John Paul said at the canonization Mass.
The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act would reauthorize a number of programs under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 – which lapsed in 2021 – through Fiscal Year 2028. It would provide roughly $1 billion in funding for anti-trafficking efforts over the next five years.
The bill would also authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to carry out a Human Trafficking Survivors Employment and Education Program, authorize grants for programs to prevent and detect trafficking of school age children, and require the U.S. Agency for International Development to encourage integration of activities to counter human trafficking into its broader programming.
The bill was introduced by Republican Representative Christopher Smith of New Jersey.
Catholic support for the bill dates back to 2022, when USCCB leaders, and those of prominent Catholic organizations, wrote to Senators urging them to support the Senate version of the bill, H.R. 6552, the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2022.
The bill was never passed by the Senate, but its companion bill – that was also introduced by Smith – was passed by the House.
The letter from Catholic leaders that year was signed by the late Bishop Mario Dorsonville, then-chair of the USCCB Migration Committee, Sister Donna Markham, then-president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, and Sister Mary Haddad, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States.
“This legislation is critical for continuing and bolstering our nation’s efforts to eradicate human trafficking and assist human trafficking survivors,” the Catholic leaders wrote.
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