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Occurrences in the Congressional Record

Entry Title Date
Victims In China, Cuba, Malaysia Ill-Served By Trafficking In Persons Report July 18, 2016
Christopher Smith, R-NJ
"Mr. Speaker, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 launched a bold comprehensive public-private sector strategy that included sheltering, political asylum, and other protections for the victims; long jail sentences and asset confiscation for the traffickers; a myriad of preventative initiatives and tough sanctions for governments that failed to meet minimum standards prescribed in the TVPA. As the prime sponsor of that law, which also created the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report and tier rankings, I remain deeply disappointed and concerned that both last year’s TIP Report and the current one gave passing grades to several nations with horrific records of government complicity in human trafficking. Falsifying a country’s human trafficking record not only undermines the credibility of the report but was especially dehumanizing to the victims who suffer rape, cruelty and horrifying exploitation. The politically contrived passing grades for more than a dozen failing governments was exposed by a series of investigative reports by Reuters, which found that the professionals at the State Department’s TIP office made one set of recommendations—only to be overruled at a higher level for political reasons. A hearing I held last week looked closely at the newly released Trafficking in Persons Report, which assesses and ranks 188 countries each year on their records of prosecuting traffickers, protecting victims, and preventing human trafficking. Sadly, this year’s TIP Report has again failed many victims. Some of the rankings comport with the records of certain countries. Burma and Uzbekistan, for example, are designated Tier 3—as they should be. But other nations including trading partners Malaysia and China are given a free pass despite their horrific records of government complicity in human trafficking. Cuba, a dictatorship highly favored by this administration, is again falsely touted with a passing grade. China was also allowed to keep its Tier 2 Watch List ranking, despite the fact that the reason for their upgrade two years ago was found to be a fraud. Alexandra Harney, Jason Szep, and Matt Spetalnick of Reuters authored an expose on China’s politicized ranking, finding that, “Two years after China announced it was ending the “re-education through labor” system, extrajudicial networks of detention facilities featuring torture and forced labor thrive in its place.” China had deceived the U.S. in 2014, and when that became apparent last year—we let them keep their ill-gotten upgrade in 2015, and again in 2016. I chair the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and based on both sex and labor trafficking, China deserves a Tier 3 ranking—egregious violator— as much if not more than any other nation on the list. Malaysia, whose ranking was upgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List last year on the flimsiest of justifications and fears it would be disqualified from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, was allowed to maintain its Tier 2 Watch List ranking—despite the fact that Malaysia faltered in its anti-trafficking progress over the last year. In fact, Malaysia, a country with 4 million migrant workers, prosecuted fewer trafficking cases and convicted only 7 traffickers last year—that’s less than when it was a Tier 3 country. Meanwhile, women from Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Nepal are trafficked to China for forced marriages or sexual exploitation. North Korean laborers worked under conditions described by experts as forced or slave labor to earn income for the North Korean government. Prisoners of conscience and other prisoners continue to be held in administration detention facilities where there are numerous credible reports of prisoners being trafficked for the purpose of organ harvesting. The State Department must get the TIP Report right, or we will lose the foundational tool created to help the more than 20 million victims of trafficking enslaved around the world today. A tier ranking is about protecting vulnerable lives—lives destroyed or saved by the on-the-ground impact of a government’s inaction or action. The easiest cases for a Tier 3 ranking should be those where the government itself is profiting from human trafficking, such as in Cuba, where thousands of Cuban medical professionals labor in dangerous countries not of their choosing, their passports taken, their movements restricted, their families and licenses threatened—and their salaries heavily garnished—by the Cuban government. It is not a coincidence that Cuban law does not recognize labor trafficking. Maria Werlau testified at our hearing in March that, “… trafficking is a huge operation run by the government through numerous state enterprises with … accomplices, participants, sponsors, and promoters all over the world.” Cuba is also a known destination for child sex tourists, and Cuba reports no convictions for child sex tourism. Yet, Cuba is ranked Tier 2 Watch List. We’ve seen many countries take a Tier 3 ranking seriously and make real, systemic changes that improved their tier rankings, but more importantly, protected trafficking victims—countries such as South Korea and Israel. When the Bush administration branded South Korea and Israel Tier 3 based on their records, both countries enacted and implemented policies to combat human trafficking and were given earned upgrades for their verifiable actions. But other countries attempt to end-run the accountability system with endless, empty promises of action or mostly meaningless gestures of compliance. China sat on the Tier 2 Watch List for eight years, each year promising the State Department they would implement their anti-trafficking plan. Each year, the State Department took the bait until Congress put a limit on the Tier 2 Watch List—two years only, unless the President gives the country a waiver. Well, China has once again promised to implement a plan—and the President just gave them a waiver to stay on the Watch List a third year. Tier rankings are about real prosecutions, real prevention, and real protection—for real people who are suffering as slaves. The TIP Report was meant to speak for the trafficking victims waiting, hoping, and praying for relief. While the 2016 TIP Report speaks for many of them, too many are still unheard."
In Recognition Of The 100Th Anniversary Of Ibew Local 252 June 10, 2016
Debbie Dingell, D-MI
"On June 6th 1916, twelve men, agreeing to the principles and objectives of the IBEW, received their official charter for IBEW Local 252. At the time, working conditions for laborers and trades workers were deplorable. In that era, the death rate for an electrician was more than twice the death rate for trades workers in other industries. It was commonplace that workers in many trades toiled under twelve hour work days for six or seven days a week, with substandard wages and few if any benefits, not to mention training or workplace safety rules. One hundred years later, we have workplace rules, training, safety, fair wages and benefits, and this would not be the case if not for the vision and courage of these original founders, which is why we celebrate this very important milestone. What those founders were fighting for then, and what these union members are fighting for now is a shot at the American dream, a dream that we all must continue to protect for future generations."
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month May 12, 2016
Janice Hahn, D-CA
"We remember the Chinese laborers who faced grueling conditions while constructing the Transcontinental Railroad, as well as the cruel irony of patriotic Japanese American troops who fought in World War II while their families back home were kept in U.S. internment camps. For generations, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have worked to better this country despite often facing discrimination and hardship."
Remembering Samuel Staten, Senior May 9, 2016
Bob Casey, D-PA
"Following 10 years as a construction worker, Sam’s capacity for leadership and his ability to unite people were recognized when he became a field representative for Laborers‘ Local 332 in 1970. His skills and leadership helped him to quickly rise through the ranks, and in 1973, he was appointed assistant business manager for Local 332. The high esteem in which he was held by his colleagues continued to be evident in 1978 when he was elected business manager for Local 332 and held that position until 2008. He also served as the secretary-treasurer of the Laborers‘ District Council of the Metropolitan Area of Philadelphia & Vicinity. He officially retired from Laborers Local 332 and the Laborers‘ District Council in 2010."
Steering And Policy Hearing On Poverty April 15, 2016
Barbara Lee, D-CA
"Thank you Leader Pelosi, Congresswoman DeLauro, Congresswoman Edwards, and Whip Hoyer. Thank you to the other panelists up here with me. And I want to give a special thank-you to my Congresswoman, Congresswoman Barbara Lee. I’m here today because of you, Congresswoman Lee, both because you invited me to this hearing, but in a bigger sense, your leadership in Oakland and support of good reentry and economic policies has made it possible for me to escape poverty and live a life I am proud of and talk to you about today. I am honored to be here, and grateful that you have given me the opportunity to speak about these issues. I am a worker, a mother, a grandmother, a formerly incarcerated person, a churchgoer, and a student. I can speak only for myself but I hope that my testimony today can give voice to the millions of people who, like me, got caught up in the criminal justice system, worked incredibly hard to transform their lives, but still face lifelong stumbling blocks to financial stability. Unlike me, too many people who worked have never escaped poverty despite their hard work. For me, like so many, the challenges started with childhood poverty. My father died when I was four years old. My mother had seven children to care for on her own and she really struggled. I grew up in the Aliso Village housing project in East Los Angeles. I never remember, as a child, having hope or vision about a bright future. My “escape” came when I was fourteen years old. My 21- year-old boyfriend took me to Oakland and made me work the streets. At the time, I did not have the privilege of believing that I deserved more and better for my life. I was first arrested for when I was sixteen years old but I was not seen as the victim of sex trafficking. I was treated like a criminal. And I became one. My next boyfriend, who was 25 years older than I was, taught me how to become a thief. When I was 19 years old I was sent to prison for grand theft and conspiracy of several hundred dollars in a street scam. Because I was a high school dropout, I got my G.E.D. while I was in prison, and afterward I took college-level classes. For the first time in my life I was exposed to learning, and I loved it. While in prison I met a mother and a daughter who were incarcerated at the same time. This broke my heart because the daughter had a child whom she missed dearly and tried to escape from prison to get back to her child. The moment I heard that the daughter tried to escape, I made a decision to change my life. I wanted children but I was going to put them through that. I have never looked back. Once I got out, I had two wonderful children and dedicated myself to supporting them. I worked full-time as a cosmetologist but still did not earn enough to feed my family. For a while we survived because we had access to food stamps, which we needed even when I was working multiple full-time jobs. Then, thanks to an affirmative action program, I was able to join the local Laborers Union and I worked heavy construction for the next 20 years. It was hard physical labor but I was grateful for the opportunity because I earned more money than I had ever earned at any other job. It allowed me, as a single parent, to provide for my children, though we still struggled. Working as a laborer became more and more difficult as I grew older and I looked for other work. When I was 54 years old I was denied office jobs because of my convictions, which were then 30 years old. Thanks to free reentry clean slate legal services—which Congresswoman Barbara Lee helped start in Oakland at the East Bay Community Law Center—I was able to clean up my record, and as a result I was able to get a great job, and thankfully one that this sixty-one-year-old body can handle. I’m coordinating the environmental/waste reduction program for a large city agency. It has been an inspiring and wonderful opportunity. I was even able to fulfill my life-long dream of becoming a homeowner and I bought a condo in Oakland. A few years back I enrolled in a community college in Oakland to study Environmental Management, where I take night and evening classes. I have surprised myself by earning a 3.92 GPA, and was even more surprised when I was recently invited to transfer to the University of California at Berkeley. But—and this why we are here today—despite my successes, and despite working as hard as a person can work, I have worried constantly about keeping my head above water financially. I have had stable employment, and I have catapulted myself out of the deep poverty my family knew when I was a child. BUT still, even now, I can’t say that I have feel economically secure. I struggled mightily to hold onto my condo through the economic recession. I am 61 years old and worried about being able to retire anytime soon. I don’t exactly know how to define “middle class” but it can’t mean what I have done for the last 3 decades of my life: Working full time, being very frugal, but yet also constantly worrying about meeting my basic financial obligations and the threat of eviction. And I am someone who has been exceptionally lucky in terms of the abundance of learning and employment opportunities I have had! I cannot imagine the financial burdens of people who have been less fortunate or live in areas with fewer programs. My plea today is that you work for policies that reward all hard working people in America with a fair chance to support their families. This is the challenge my children face even though both of them are resourceful, intelligent, and have good jobs. I pray that my children will be able to know economic prosperity, which at very least means living without constant worry about day-to-day about making it. I sit before you as a very different person from who I was as lost and hopeless 16-year-old girl on the streets. It has been a long journey of seeking forgiveness for the harm I caused others, and healing myself I hope my story can inspire women who are now struggling on the path I was on thirty years ago. I want them to be encouraged to persevere and make positive changes in their lives, and to have faith in the system. But the system must also have faith in us! Successful reentry requires government policies and programs that remove stumbling blocks to economic security. I am exceptionally grateful to be here but I am not exceptional. I am an example of what’s possible when we support people through smart and fair reentry and economic programs. Thank you."

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