‘Hard’ money woes

With a rare showing of election year bipartisan support, the Senate unanimously passed a comprehensive human rights bill sponsored by Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone. The 99-0 vote came less than a week after the House approved the same bill with a similar display of unusually overwhelming bipartisan support. Called the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the bill will aid victims of exploitation both locally and nationally. Sen. Wellstone should be commended for his participation in this humanitarian legislation, which will now be sent to the White House, where President Bill Clinton is expected to sign the bill.
According to the CIA, as many as 50,000 women and children are brought into the United States illegally each year and are forced to work as prostitutes, in sweatshops or as servants. Any legislator not supporting this bill to battle sexual slavery and such a blatant violation of human rights should probably find a new job. Although the only vote against the bill — made by Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C. — was placed to respect a promise made to constituents not to increase spending without cutting spending someplace else, citizens in the representative’s district might have let Sanford off the hook if they had considered the value of Wellstone’s bill. The value of human rights should be put above a financial bottom line.
The bill utilizes funding creatively by attacking the problem from all angles. The bill’s aim is to prevent the illegal trafficking of people by increasing other economic opportunities for them, raising public awareness of the problem and toughening the punishments for offenders. Besides making human trafficking punishable by life in prison for all cases — including kidnapping, sexual abuse and any attempt to kill — the act will protect victims by offering assistance regardless of the status of their immigration. Since victims are deported for not having their legal immigration documents, the government will provide temporary immigration relief to victims.
Attached to this act is the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, originally passed in 1994. If the president signs the legislation, the government will spend $3.3 billion over five years to help finance domestic abuse shelters and law enforcement for abuse cases.
The human rights bill and the attached reauthorization of the VAWA cover a variety of violations. They attack the recruitment of people to the United States by “international pimps,” who use false promises of job opportunities to lure their victims here. This bill offers new levels of protection under the law and funding programs for victims, as well as improvements to State Department records for tracking those involved in human trafficking.
This bill is essential in the fight against the trafficking of human beings. With almost unanimous support from the House and Senate, it will be difficult for the president to find a reason not to sign the bill into law. Ultimately, the safety of all the people in the United States — regardless of their citizenship — should be this country’s top priority. All U.S. citizens deserve the law’s full protection.