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Friday, February 3, 2012

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 million 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.

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. In FY2010, for example, primary countries of origin for the 449 foreign trafficking victims certified as eligible to receive U.S. assistance included Mexico, Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic (along with India and Thailand).

Since enactment of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA, P.L. 106-386), Congress has taken steps to address human trafficking by authorizing new programs and reauthorizing existing ones, appropriating funds, creating new criminal laws, and conducting oversight on the effectiveness and implications of U.S. anti-TIP policy. Most recently, the TVPA was reauthorized through FY2011 in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-457). Obligations for U.S.-funded anti-TIP programs in Latin America totaled roughly $17.1 million in FY2010.

On June 27, 2011, the State Department issued its 11th annual, congressionally mandated report on human trafficking. 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 and Venezuela are the only Latin American countries ranked on Tier 3 in this year’s TIP report, seven other countries in the region—Barbados, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the Bahamas—are on the Tier 2 Watch List. Unless those countries make significant progress, they could receive a Tier 3 ranking in the 2012 report.

Activity on combating TIP has continued into the 112th Congress, particularly related to efforts to reauthorize the TVPA and oversee TIP programs and operations, including U.S.-funded programs in Latin America. Congress may also consider increasing funding for anti-TIP programs in the region, possibly through the Mérida Initiative for Mexico, the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) or through other assistance programs. Congress is likely to monitor new trends in human trafficking in the region, such as the increasing involvement of Mexican drug trafficking organizations in TIP and the problem of child trafficking in Haiti, which has worsened since that country experienced a devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010. For more general information on human trafficking and a discussion of TIP-related legislation in the 112th Congress, see CRS Report RL34317, Trafficking in Persons: U.S. Policy and Issues for Congress, by Alison Siskin and Liana Sun Wyler.

Date of Report: January 23, 2012
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: RL33200
Price: $29.95

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