Foreign nationals who come to the United States in search of a better life are among the most vulnerable targets of criminal activity. Gilded promises of a new life tarnish as high-paying jobs never materialize and the difficulties associated with the lack of documentation becomes a reality. For this group of immigrants, the recipe often results in modern-day slavery and human trafficking.
Estimated with numbers running into the millions, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is actively working to bring awareness to the issue of modern-day slavery and human trafficking. USCIS works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other law enforcement agencies to combat the activity. At this federal level, January has been designated as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
“These victims face a cruelty that has no place in a civilized world: children are made to be soldiers, teenage girls are beaten and forced into prostitution, and migrants are exploited and compelled to work for little or no pay,” President Obama said in his proclamation of the designated month.
One of the main issues surrounding the issue in the United States, according to USCIS, is that traffickers will use their victims’ lack of legal status to threaten undocumented immigrants into submission. Although the situation leaves victims feeling as if they have nowhere to turn, USCIS encourages victims to seek the shelter of law enforcement.
“When victims of trafficking and other serious crimes cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of these crimes, they can apply to USCIS for lawful immigration status so they don’t have to worry about their ability to remain in the U.S.,” according to the agency.
USCIS primarily issues T visas and U visas to undocumented immigrants who are victims of traffickers. Five thousand T visas are available to trafficking victims and certain family members each year. Ten thousand U visas are issued each year to trafficking victims as well as victims of domestic violence and some other serious crimes. Immigrants on the wait list for U visas can stay in the United States and apply for work authorization. Additionally, trafficking victims are sometimes granted Continued Presence (CP) status in order to act as an investigation witness into trafficking crimes.