Search Penny Hill Press

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Trafficking in Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean

Clare Ribando Seelke
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Trafficking in persons (TIP) for the purpose of exploitation is a lucrative criminal activity that is of major concern to the United States and the international community. According to the most recent U.S. State Department estimates, roughly 800,000 people are trafficked across borders each year. If trafficking within countries is included in the total world figures, official U.S. estimates are that some 2 to 4 million people are trafficked annually. While most trafficking victims still appear to originate from South and Southeast Asia or the former Soviet Union, human trafficking is also a growing problem in Latin America. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has estimated that sex trafficking in Latin America generates some $16 billion worth of business annually. 

Countries in Latin America serve as source, transit, and destination countries for trafficking victims. Latin America is a primary source region for people trafficked to the United States. As many as 17,500 are trafficked into the United States each year, according to State Department estimates. In FY2007, victims from Latin America accounted for 41% of trafficking victims in the United States certified as eligible to receive U.S. assistance. In FY2008, Mexico alone accounted for 23% of the foreign TIP victims who were certified. 

Since enactment of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (P.L. 106- 386), successive Administrations and Congress have taken steps to address human trafficking. The 110th Congress passed The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-457, signed into law on December 23, 2008). The Act, among other provisions, authorizes TIP appropriations for FY2008 through FY2011. Obligations for U.S.-funded anti-TIP programs in Latin America totaled roughly $13.7 million in FY2008, down from $17.5 million in FY2007. 

On June 16, 2009, the State Department issued its ninth annual, congressionally mandated report on human trafficking. In addition to outlining major trends and ongoing challenges in combating TIP, the report categorizes countries into four "tiers" according to the government's efforts to combat trafficking. Those countries that do not cooperate in the fight against trafficking (Tier 3) have been made subject to U.S. foreign assistance sanctions. While Cuba is the only Latin American country ranked on Tier 3 in this year's TIP report, seven other countries and one territory in the region—Argentina, Belize, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Guyana, the Netherlands Antilles, Venezuela, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines—are on the Tier 2 Watch List. Unless those countries make significant progress in the next six months, they could receive a Tier 3 ranking in the 2010 report. 

The 111th Congress may continue to exercise its oversight of TIP programs and operations, including U.S.-funded programs in Latin America. Congress may consider increasing funding for anti-TIP programs in the region, possibly through the Mérida Initiative, or through other assistance programs. Congress may also monitor new trends in human trafficking in the region, including the increasing involvement of Mexican drug trafficking organizations in TIP. Another issue of interest may be whether sufficient efforts are being applied to address all forms of TIP in Latin America, including not only sexual exploitation, but also forced labor. For more general information on human trafficking, see CRS Report RL34317, Trafficking in Persons: U.S. Policy and Issues for Congress, by Liana Sun Wyler, Alison Siskin, and Clare Ribando Seelke.

Date of Report: January 20, 2010
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: RL332000
Price: $29.95

Document available electronically as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail or call us at 301-253-0881.