After much gossip, hand-ringing, internecine scuffles and turf kick-up, the White House has announced that Luis de Baca will be appointed to head up the State Department’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Office. The TIP Office coordinates policy out of the State Department on the Traffic in Persons and, perhaps most importantly, must issue an annual Report in which it assesses the efforts that foreign governments are making to combat severe forms of trafficking, and in which countries are ranked in tiers based upon the TIP Office’s assessment of their commitment to and success in combating human trafficking. The Bush Administration had used the TIP Office and the annual TIP Report to advance a highly contested policy of forcing foreign governments and NGOs to adopt laws criminalizing sex work on the flawed hypothesis that prostitution “causes” sex trafficking. See previous post discussing this problem.
de Baca’s appointment is very good news. Mr. de Baca, a lawyer who has worked as legislative counsel for the House Judiciary Committee and in the Justice Department as chief counsel of Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit is a smart, experienced and effective choice for the job. He has worked for years on this issue and is very-well respected in criminal justice and advocates’ circles alike for his approach to this difficult problem. He was one of the lead DOJ attorneys who successfully prosecuted Kil Soo Lee, the former owner of an American Samoa garment factory, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in illegally confining and using as forced labor over 200 Vietnamese and Chinese garment workers.
de Baca, as evidenced by this presentation available on the web, takes a complex and nuanced view of the injustice of trafficking. He is not liable to over-determine the work of the TIP office with trafficking that is sexual in nature, recognizing that the trafficking of persons into sex work is a part, albeit an important part, but a part of the vast range of work-sectors into which people are illegally trafficked – including agricultural, domestic (meaning work in homes as nannies, maids and servants), factory, restaurant and other work that is exploitive but not necessarily sexual in nature. So too, de Baca has acknowledged a need for law enforcement officials to work closely with NGOs to create support and exit for trafficked persons that does not over-rely on raids as the principal means by which people who have been trafficked can be “rescued” by law enforcement officials, or worse, get swept up in raids that result in their datainment and deportation along with other undocumented people. We’ve blogged about this previously.
Perhaps most importantly, de Baca appreciates the importance of a harm reduction approach to the problem of trafficking that prioritizes the needs, risks, complexities of the trafficked person rather than that of law enforcement or anti-sex evangelists.
– Katherine Franke