Trafficking foes to skip White House

Activists cite Trump immigration policies in boycott of his daughter’s event

WASHINGTON -- On Friday, President Donald Trump is expected to attend a White House meeting organized by his daughter, Ivanka, on human trafficking, an issue he frequently invokes as a top priority. But some of the country's most prominent anti-trafficking organizations and advocates won't be there. They have decided to boycott the event.

The group includes Polaris, the nonprofit organization that runs the national human-trafficking hotline, and the leader of the Freedom Network USA, the country's largest anti-trafficking coalition. Their decision comes after months of anguish over what they describe as an act of public deception. They say that although the president frequently invokes human trafficking, his administration is actively endangering a significant portion of trafficking victims: immigrants.

"We have such a chasm between rhetoric and reality," said Martina Vandenberg, founder of the Human Trafficking Legal Center, a network of attorneys who take on trafficking cases. "This administration is undermining protections carefully built for trafficking victims over two decades."

The advocates are especially alarmed by increased scrutiny of T visas, which provide temporary legal status for immigrants who can prove they were trafficked while in the United States.

At least eight organizations declined invitations to the gathering because of their opposition to the administration's policies. Three of those groups told The Washington Post that they feared backlash over their decision, so they cited conflicts with other events.

Trump is scheduled to be joined at the event by Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General William Barr and Ivanka Trump, who has embraced the eradication of human trafficking as one of her causes. Earlier this month, the president's daughter visited two residential facilities for trafficking victims in Atlanta. She praised her father's dedication to the trafficking issue, calling it a modern form of slavery.

Trump repeatedly brings up human trafficking when discussing immigration policy, and in 2018, he became the first sitting president to attend a meeting of the federal trafficking task force since its creation in 2000.

Ivanka Trump has advocated for anti-trafficking legislation, including a law intended to strengthen prosecutors' ability to go after websites that host advertisements for commercial sex. She wrote about these efforts and others in a 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post, invoking Abraham Lincoln and the abolitionist movement.

Now, the first daughter and presidential adviser is the face of the event intended to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which established trafficking as a federal crime, and identify new strategies to attack the problem.

"I am honored to stand with the president as we convene federal, state, local and tribal leaders, alongside survivors, employers and advocates to ensure that we see the end of the crisis of human trafficking once and for all," she said in a statement.

One of the survivors planning to attend the event is Courtney Litvak, who met with Ivanka Trump at the White House in November.

"I told her, 'I wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't think you are a doer. I can't keep having these conversations,' " Litvak said. "I need action to happen."

The 21-year-old is among the advocates grateful for the administration's efforts and for the chance to dispel the misconception that victims of human trafficking are frequently bound, gagged and dragged over borders into America.

The reality is much different. Advocates who assist foreign-born victims say the majority of them immigrated legally using tourist or work visas and were exploited once in America. But most trafficking victims are U.S. citizens, like Litvak, whose high school friends in Katy, Texas, introduced her to the person who became her trafficker.

Other groups planning to attend the event include Shared Hope International, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and House of Cherith, one of the facilities Ivanka visited in Atlanta.

"Dealing with an issue such as trafficking should always rise above partisan politics and tap into the best of all people as we work together to end this tragic reality," said Bruce Deel, House of Cherith's founder.

Those boycotting the event say partisan politics are already involved. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act also established the visa for immigrants who were forced, defrauded or coerced into prostitution (sex trafficked) or physical work (labor trafficked). In 2016, the processing time for a T visa application took an average of 7.9 months. Today, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services estimates applicants must wait 19.5 to 26.5 months to find out whether they will receive their visa.

A Section on 01/30/2020