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The Trafficking Victims Protection Act
by Carl R. Baldwin

The U.S. government definition of trafficking is "all acts involved in the transport, harboring, or sale of persons within national or across international borders through coercion, force, kidnapping, deception or fraud, for purposes of placing persons in situations of forced labor or services, such as forced prostitution, domestic servitude, debt bondage or other slavery-like practices." Women and children are the main victims of trafficking, which has been called a "contemporary manifestation of slavery." It is a world-wide criminal enterprise, and at least 50,000 immigrant victims are trafficked into the United States each year.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, signed into law by the President last October, intends to do something for the victims of this cruel practice. Victims of "severe trafficking," defined as sex trafficking of persons under 18 years of age, or recruiting or obtaining persons for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion, are eligible for public benefits and services regardless of their immigration status. Since many trafficking victims arrive in the United States with suspect documents, this is a sensible and thoughtful proviso.

Victims of trafficking must also apply for a "T" visa. They will get it if they show the following: that they are victims of severe trafficking, are in the United States as a result of that trafficking, have either assisted in the investigation or prosecution of the traffickers or are less than 15 years old, and would suffer "extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm" if removed from the United States.

The T visa is limited to 5,000 per year, and visa holders will get work authorization. They may adjust status to legal resident after three years if they demonstrate "good moral character" and "extreme hardship" if removed to their home countries. The victim's spouse, children and parents (if the victim is under 21) may receive the same adjustment of status benefits at the discretion of the Attorney General. Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), a chief sponsor of the legislation, may be right in calling it "one of the most important pieces of human rights legislation to pass Congress in recent years." However, if it is true that 50,000 immigrants are trafficked into the United States each year, one has to wonder whether it is fair and just to limit the annual number of T visas and adjustments to a mere 5,000.

About The Author

Carl R. Baldwin graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1980, and became a member of the New York State Bar a year later. He worked for three years with the New York City Law Department, and then entered solo practice in immigration law, which he has continued to the present. His work with clients has included asylum applications, deportation defense, visa processing, adjustment of status, and naturalization. He has also worked to implement special laws, such as the 1986 "amnesty" (The Immigration Reform and Control Act), and the 1998 Haitian reform act (The Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act). Mr. Baldwin is the author of Immigration News Monthly. He can be rached by e-mail at

He has written a book on immigration law, called "Immigration Questions and Answers," 1997, Allworth Press, 10 East 23rd Street, New York, NY 10010 (212) 777-8395. The book, which contains essential background information about how the immigration law works, can be ordered in both an English Edition and a Spanish version from