Webinar presenter Colleen Owens and Erin Albright answered a number of your questions after their presentation, “Developing Your Labor Trafficking Threat Assessment.” Here are a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Can you clarify something? Trafficked individuals aren’t necessarily here as illegal immigrants, are we showing that correctly?
Colleen Owens: Yes, overall, with respect to the study that we did, 71% of the sample were in the US, they were present with a visa to be in the US. I should clarify that 29% of the samples were smuggled to the US. Some of those were forcibly smuggled. They did not sign up to be smuggled to the US but especially in some domestic servitude cases, we saw that they were moved to the US against their will and smuggled across the border. For the 71% of the sample who’re here with a visa for work, those visas are tied to the employer who recruited them to come to the US. But that means that once they leave that employer, whether they escaped from the trafficking experience or were moved in some way, then they’re no longer lawfully present in the US, so they are then unauthorized. That was a powerful mechanism of control that traffickers use to keep people in situations of coercion and trafficking
Erin Albright: Can I just add to that? We are seeing over the past couple of years, more cases of US citizen labor trafficking victims popping up. There was a case in Ohio, US v Callahan, probably one of the most well-known. Labor trafficking isn’t just foreign nationals. Keep that in mind as you’re working on this too.
Audience Question: Did you look at the individuals’ vulnerability as opposed to the industry that they worked in? Or is this a review of both? A review of only the industries? How did you go through that thinking process?
Erin Albright: I did not go down to that granular level. Just because of the limitations of the various datasets and trying to keep it simple for the webinar. The data I showed you is simply looking at the industry and knowing that there are vulnerable industries. At the same time, knowing they’re vulnerable industries is in part because they employ vulnerable workers. It is kind of mixed up.
Audience Question: Did your research find any patterns other than industry to the patterns of labor trafficking? For example, is it mostly in the south? Is it in mostly in high-density areas?
Colleen Owens: Part of it is related to the methods that we used. You can’t tell from our study where labor trafficking is most prevalent, we don’t have a good prevalence estimate about labor trafficking in the US. We knew that if we did a study that was random because we randomly selected areas, the chances would be that we will find zero cases. Because we are early on in this, in the country. What we did was that we selected to take a community sample approach which meant we basically start by going to areas where we know labor trafficking cases have been identified and let’s learn as much as we can about what those cases look like. The challenge in that approach is that it doesn’t allow us to generalize or draw a larger conclusion. We can only just say that these are trends in these locations. Another study that I would point you to though that did use an approach to look at prevalence was a study done by Sheldon Zhang out of UC San Diego. He used a respondent-driven sampling approach which is like a snowball sampling approach to recruiting migrant day laborers in San Diego County. I believe they interviewed over 800 workers and found that about 30 percent met the definition of how they experienced labor trafficking. That is actually an approach where you can draw larger conclusions from that study. I’d be happy to follow up offline about labor trafficking research in general. Just one thing, yes, we did find trends across the different industries that we looked at and those would be types of forced or coercion are more prevalent in certain types of industries. There were trends in suspect characteristics and what those look like in this industry. For example, men were more likely to be suspect but in industries like domestic servitude or work, women were more likely to be the suspect there. They were clearly split in terms of immigration background so in terms of the suspect, they were evenly split between US citizens and foreign nationals. There were some trends that are highlighted in the full report.
Audience Question: Erin, can you talk a little bit more about the sources of the data or for the data? Are these violations, the ones that we saw on your data set, are they based on investigations or are they based on complaints? How do we get the data?
Erin Albright: The one that I showed you are from the Wage and Hour Division Enforcement Action. I don’t know the precise but all of them are cases that have been closed, there’s been some sort of remedy associated with it. They start off with a complaint but all of the Wage and Hour stuff is based on actual cases and there’s case ID associated with it. Some of the other data is just like the I-Certification data, those are based on employers that submit applications to be certified to bring over guest workers so those don’t show you history of exploitation so much as they just show you the types of industries and the locations that are requesting workers that we know have a higher level of vulnerability.
Audience Question: Given the controversy around immigration, how do we broach the topic of developing a labor trafficking assessment with our command staff and our city leaders?
Erin Albright: This is where I come from a very multi-disciplinary background. I think that that is a complication and this is where I would take it to that multi-disciplinary group and maybe figure out ways. I think law enforcement has an important role to play but I also think there could be a key link effect of actually finding out information at some point so really partnering with DOL or worker rights groups or talking to your service provider partners and coming up with a way to do it I think that’s what it actually takes to really bring home a solid threat assessment. Because all of those partners also have unique sets of knowledge and information to add to the process. I would just really recommend doing that multi-disciplinary profile or assessment.
Audience Question: Could you please repeat those numbers regarding being smuggled?
Colleen Owens: Twenty-nine percent of the sample were smuggled to the US.
Audience Question: Have you seen an increase in undocumented minors being involved in labor trafficking?
Erin Albright: That’s really tricky. I think we’ve seen a couple of these cases, there’s on in Ohio. I can say on my own experience with services, it’s hard to track those kinds of cases. With youth especially, there are so many other things going on that trafficking isn’t always sussed out. I don’t know that we have enough knowledge to really say that we have seen an increase. But it happens.
Colleen Owens: It’s a function of, if you build it, they will come in a way. What we know is it’s a function of is there outreach? It’s complicated in that sense. We don’t have a good prevalence assessment so we can’t really assess if things are increasing or decreasing. One area to look might be the National Hotline to get a sense. It’s also a function of awareness. We find folks on the phone also that in many cases out in the country, you folks are aware of seeing trafficking and define it as sex trafficking. There are a lot of variables that’s why in terms of what we actually know about experiencing labor traffic.
Audience Question: Help us understand what grants are available to help fund or conduct these assessments? Or is grant funding needed? How does this work?
Erin Albright: I don’t know if grant funding is absolutely necessary. I think one way to do this is maybe partnering with a local academic institution. I know that when I was in New Hampshire, we have this professor for a stat class that helped us do a lot of data analysis and that was exciting. Other ways are, there are grants from DOJ with respect to trafficking that do require you to use a data-driven approach. I would really encourage people that if you’re planning for things like a task force or something to really be willing to contribute a good portion, you know a reasonable portion of those funds to the data element of it because we know that’s a gap in the trafficking world in general, so putting some more resources into it. I’d also say there are some BJA grants, community policing type grants that you could really frame out for something like this. I can only think of federal grants at the top of my head right now. But I think there’s a lot of room to frame out a data-driven thing within the federal branch.