The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act is among the many pieces of legislation currently gridlocked in Washington, D.C. International relations and global studies senior Philip Tryon said he has been working to get the bill reauthorized since 2010.
The bill, which defines human trafficking, establishes law enforcement policy and provides aid to victims. Originally passed in 2000, the bill was reauthorized in 2003, 2005 and 2008. It is up for reauthorization again this session in accordance with the policy that when Congress enacts a law, it is usually not permanent and must be periodically reauthorized by vote.
In the past, the Reauthorization Act received strong bipartisan support. Tryon lobbied the same bill earlier with the human rights group International Justice Mission. This semester Tryon is interning as an Archer Fellow in Washington, D.C., for World Vision, a humanitarian organization focused on addressing injustice.
“Real people who are enslaved will be affected by this,” Tryon said. “I think that needs to be placed at the forefront of this, outside of partisanship and outside of politics.”
Human trafficking victims, as defined by the Act, are individuals who are compelled into service, labor or sex, said Noël Busch-Armendariz, director of UT’s Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
Busch-Armendariz, also an associate social work professor, said the legislation acknowledges modern slavery and establishes a policy for how law enforcement should address the issue.
“If the legislation is not passed, it puts a roadblock into the efforts of anti-trafficking work,” Busch-Armendariz said. “I think it will undermine the spirit and the energy and the resources, to some degree, of what’s been going on for the last 10 years.”
Busch-Armendariz said she is hopeful the bill will be reauthorized despite its slow progress. The issue, she said, is not stalled because of significant political differences but rather because of an overall lack of progress in Congress.
Busch-Armendariz said in Texas, human trafficking problems arise because of the state’s population and its vast geography. She said traffickers can hide victims very well in Texas, but state law enforcement and social services have risen to the challenge.
“Texas, in some ways, can lead the nation with a model for innovative ways to end slavery,” Busch-Armendariz said. “There are a number of legislators that have made this a major cause in office.”
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is a co-sponsor of the Act. But Sen. John Cornyn thinks the bill should not be passed until the amendment that he co-authored is added to the language, Cornyn’s press secretary Scott Gosnell said. Cornyn’s amendment calls for increased punishment for child pornographers and $6 million more allocated to combat sex trafficking, among other adjustments. Gosnell said he would not comment on what Cornyn might decide in the event that his proposed amendment does not pass.
Tryon said calling senators is one of the main ways Texans can push the Act to the floor for a vote.
“Call both [senators] and say ‘we want this up for a vote now,’” Tryon said. “It’s about creating a sense of urgency.”
In Austin nonprofit organizations, including Women of Vision, have been conducting campaigns to increase pressure on lawmakers in Washington to put the Act to the floor for a vote. Advocacy co-chair Fiona McInally said the previously nonpartisan bill became partisan because it is an election year and got stuck. McInally said there is still a chance to get it through and that her organization worked hard to get Sen. Hutchison to co-sponsor the bill.
“We are extremely disappointed that Sen. Cornyn will not co-sponsor [the bill] until amendments are implemented,” McInally said in an email. “Our opinion is some bill, albeit imperfect, is better than no bill.”
Printed on Friday, September 28, 2012 as: Human trafficking ignites UT, lawmakers - UT students lobbies for passage of Reauthorization Act