NEW YORK – An organization with Catholic roots says a new human trafficking prevention bill passed by the House could have a far reaching impact in the United States and abroad.

On Feb. 13, the House passed H.R. 5856, the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2023 in a 414-11 vote, paving the way for community education programs, enhanced preventive measures, and reintegration programs for survivors.

Katie Boller Gosewisch, the executive director of the Alliance to End Human Trafficking – an organization founded by American Catholic sisters in 2013 that supports survivors and advocates for the eradication of human trafficking – said the organization is “thrilled” by the bill’s passage.

“The [bill] does a lot for migrants, and all sorts of people across the globe and country in hopes to prevent human trafficking in the first place,” Gosewisch told Crux Feb. 15. “There are many different aspects of this bill that are very important.”

If the bill clears its next hurdle and gets passed by the Senate, it would allocate roughly $1 billion dollars over the next five years to prevent and address human trafficking. Part of that money would go towards the “Frederick Douglass Human Trafficking Prevention Grants” for education and training on signs of human trafficking in local communities.

The bill would also allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to create a Human Trafficking Survivors Employment and Education Program to assist survivors with integrating or re-integrating in society through different programs including social services support, housing, employment, education, legal assistance, and victim compensation.

To address issues abroad, the bill would encourage the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to incorporate counter-trafficking measures – things like monitoring and training – in their programs. Specifically, in programs related to economic development, education, democracy and governance, food security, and humanitarian assistance.

Further, the bill would establish standards that foreign countries need to be in compliance with in order to receive certain types of funding from the United States.

For the Alliance to End Human Trafficking, the bill’s provisions pertaining to other countries are especially important. The organization has an ongoing project looking into the intersection between human trafficking and forced migration. The bill’s passage was the organization’s first priority.

“We want to make sure that that aid is going to countries that are promoting good safe environments for their citizens, and then also providing aid so that there’s more income stability, people are able to feed their families, and people are feeling safe,” Gosewisch said. “Promoting programs in countries to help the residents there so that they do feel like they can safely stay in their home country.”

At its core, the Frederick Douglass Human Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2023 reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, and the funding attached to it, for a period of five years from Fiscal Year 2024 through 2028.

The new bill and the original were both authored by Republican Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey. Smith has touted the “three Ps” approach to the bills – prevention, protection for victims and prosecution of the traffickers.

“This critical legislation reauthorizes funding for FY2024 through 2028 – a total of five years – to continue current year enacted appropriation and authorization levels to enhance programs, strengthen laws, and add accountability,” Smith said in a Feb. 13 statement after the new bill passed.

Kenneth Morris, Jr., president of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives – who helped craft the legislation – also spoke about the importance of eradicating human trafficking after the legislation passed.

“In the words of my great-great-great grandfather and the great American abolitionist Frederick Douglass – enslavement is a scourge on humanity that ‘to expose it is to kill it. Slavery is one of those monsters of darkness to whom the light of truth is death. Expose slavery and it dies.’” Morris said.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act lapsed in 2021, and attempts to renew it since have been unsuccessful. Like the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2023, bills have passed the House, but subsequently stalled in the Senate.

Gosewisch said she hopes that won’t be the case this time around.

“What we have as Christian people is hope,” she said. “It’s anti-trafficking work and it did pass the House so overwhelmingly and it did have some really good bipartisan support, and so when you have that I think the hope kind of grows.”

“Yes, it may have stalled in the past, but my hope is that it does get through the Senate and that it’s law by summer. That’s my hope,” Gosewisch continued. “I really feel good about it this time.”

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