This Thursday, June 20th is World Refugee Day, a day to commemorate the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees like Natalie. Born and raised in a small village in Ghana, Natalia’s family was struggling to pay the school fees for her education and welcomed the opportunity for Natalia to receive an education in the U.S.
Shortly after arriving, the father she was living with began to physically and sexually abuse her. For the next six years, she was forced to clean the house, wash clothes, cook, and care for their three children, often working 18 hours a day while receiving no form of payment. She was never allowed to enroll in school as the family had promised, to go outside, or even use the phone.
One day, after she was severely beaten, Natalia saw an opportunity to run away and a neighbor called the police. She was then taken to a local hospital for medical. The nurse assisting Natalia was aware of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and referred her to Polaris New Jersey, an organization that works to combat and prevent human trafficking.
We have heard of the many reasons why men and women seek to flee their country of origin and go to another country – poverty, climate disasters, gang, and domestic violence, war. It’s often hard for white Americans to understand this phenomenon and yet the vast majority of us have immigrant or refugee ancestors.
The United States has admitted, if not always welcomed, refugees from its beginnings. Refugees resettled here to rebuild their lives and contribute meaningfully to local economies. The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is a model humanitarian program and critical tool of U.S. foreign policy. Unfortunately, the number of refugees admitted each year has been reduced from an average of 95,000 to fewer than 30,000. There are two pro-refugee bills recently introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
H.R. 2146 and S. 1088. The GRACE Act (Guaranteed Refugee Admissions Ceiling Enhancement Act) would set a minimum on refugee admissions of 95,000 each fiscal year.
H.R. 2214 and S. 1123. The NO BAN Act (National Origin Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act) would repeal the executive orders that have halted refugee admissions, banned individuals from Muslim-majority countries and barred individuals from seeking asylum between ports of entry. It would also strengthen the Immigration and Nationality Act to prohibit religious discrimination.
Sadly, as the number of legal refugees is reduced, more individuals are forced to look for illegal means that put them at greater risk of forced labor and human trafficking. New immigrants may be susceptible to trafficking because of their precarious social and economic circumstances. Like Natalia above, they are pushed into the shadows allowing traffickers to use people’s immigration status as a tool to exploit their labor or coerce them into participating in the sex trade. More and more resources are being diminished or reduced undercutting anti-trafficking efforts and feeding into the hands of those who seek to exploit migrants and refugees. It’s time to push for more just treatment of our brothers and sisters.