Study of HHS Programs Serving Human Trafficking Victims. Service eligibility

12/15/2009

Prior to the passage of the TVPA, NGOs and other service providers with scarce resources struggled to piece together the comprehensive services needed by victims of human trafficking (Clawson, Small, Go, & Myles, 2004). The TVPA designated HHS to certify adult international victims of trafficking, which provides victims who are not U.S. citizens or LPRs with documentation allowing eligibility for various mainstream public benefits and refugee services. In addition, trafficking victims may receive a special T-visa that allows them to lawfully reside in the United States for up to 4 years, and after 3 years they can apply for permanent resident status (Protection Project, 2002). Child victims of human trafficking are eligible for benefits without having to obtain either continued presence status or a T-visa from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and receive documentation from ORR which establishes such eligibility (ORR is part of the Administration for Children and Families, under HHS) (22.U.S.C. §7105(b)(1)).

Certified international adult victims are eligible to apply for, and if determined eligible receive, federally funded services and benefits to the same extent as refugees, such as assistance with housing or shelter, food, cash assistance, job training, English language training, health care and mental health services, and perhaps even services for victims of torture if they meet the definition of a victim of torture. Some of the mainstream, non-refugee specific benefit programs at HHS and across the federal government that certified trafficking victims may apply for include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, the  One-Stop Career Center System, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program), Supplemental Security Income, State Childrens Health Insurance Program,  Job Corps, housing, and other State-specific assistance programs (U.S. Department of Justice, 2006). U.S. citizens who are victims of trafficking do not need to be certified by HHS because they already are eligible to receive such benefits. But LPR victims of trafficking who have been in the United States for less than 5 years are not eligible for Federal means-tested benefits due to restrictions enacted under welfare reform in 1996 (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996). This has resulted in the anomaly of an undocumented international victim who is certified by HHS being eligible for a greater range of services than a legal immigrant who is a trafficking victim but has not resided in the United States for a period longer than 5 years.

Unaccompanied international child victims are provided services under the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) program and, to a lesser degree, by the Division of Unaccompanied Childrens Services (DUCS), both of which are managed by ORR. Once a child victim is determined to be unaccompanied, he or she will typically receive a full range of assistance and services from a local URM program which, in accordance with State law, will establish legal guardianship for the child. Reunification with parents or other family is encouraged, and attempts to trace family members are conducted in coordination with local refugee resettlement agencies. Most children in the URM program are placed in licensed foster homes, although some children may be placed in therapeutic foster care, group homes, residential treatment centers, and independent living programs (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007). DUCS may receive, identify, and serve an unaccompanied child victim of trafficking on a short-term basis, but what typically occurs is that DUCS will screen children within its custody for trafficking, and those identified as trafficking victims will receive an eligibility letter and be transferred to a URM program for long-term placement. DUCS offers a variety of services, such as shelter care, staff secure care, foster care, innovative secure settings, and residential treatment care for unaccompanied international children apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and transferred to ORR/DUCS. Similar to the URM program, DUCS facilities provide education, health care, socialization, mental health services, access to legal services, family reunification, and case management (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008).

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