The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) recognized the importance of providing benefits and services to victims of human trafficking. Initially, emphasis was placed on the needs of international victims who were largely understood to be either undocumented or in possession of marginal legal documentation related to their presence in the U.S., thus making these individuals generally ineligible for most major benefit programs. Specifically, Congress wanted to ensure that trafficking victims were treated humanely and had access to assistance. To this end, international victims were to be treated the same as refugees for benefit eligibility purposes. That is, international adult victims of human trafficking who receive an HHS letter of certification are eligible to apply for benefits and services under Federal or state funded programs, to the same extent as refugees. Services include refugee cash, medical assistance, and other social services. International minor victims do not need to be certified but instead receive a letter of eligibility from HHS and are then eligible to apply for a similar range of services, including the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program.
Subsequent reauthorizations of the TVPA recognized domestic trafficking victims and their needs for service, in particular residential facilities for domestic youth. No resources have been appropriated to implement or provide services to domestic victims. Instead, the legislative assumption seems to have been that domestic victims would have better access to various mainstream programs (e.g., child protective services, foster care, runaway and homeless youth programs, Medicaid, etc.) by nature of their citizenship or legal permanent residence. While the process for becoming eligible for and accessing benefits and services may be laid out in the legislation or guidances of agencies, it is not well-known or understood by victims of human trafficking, whether international or domestic. So how do victims navigate through this process? How do they learn about their rights as victims? How do they obtain the necessary documentation and complete the required forms in order to access the services that they need? This is where the role of the case manager becomes critical throughout the duration of a case, whether the victim is male or female, an adult or child, or international or domestic.