Human Trafficking Lawyers

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What Is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his/her will.

The United States is the destination point of about 50,000 people every year that have been abducted, tricked, or forced from their home countries into labor or prostitution. Traffickers use violence, threats, blackmail, false promises, deception, manipulation, and debt bondage to trap vulnerable individuals in horrific situations.

Federal Definition of Human Trafficking includes both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals.
Human trafficking is not synonymous with forced migration or smuggling which involves border crossing. In short, human trafficking does not require transportation. Human trafficking within the United States affects victims who are U.S. Citizens, lawful permanent residents, visa holders, and undocumented workers.

Federal Anti-Human Trafficking Laws

Human trafficking has been a federal crime since 2000. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act (TVPA) of 2000 is the first comprehensive federal law to address trafficking in persons. The TVPA provides a three-pronged approach: prevention, protection, and prosecution. The TVPA was reauthorized through the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013.

The federal TVPA defines and classifies human trafficking into two categories — sex trafficking and labor trafficking:

Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.

Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

The TVPA also created new offense for document withholding, which is a common tool used by traffickers to control their victims. The TVPA also made sentencing commensurate with other serious crimes, ranging from 20 years to life. Furthermore, the TVPA mandates restitution to be paid to victims and protects victims and survivors of human trafficking by establishing the T visa, which allows victims of human trafficking, and their families to become temporary U.S. residents and eligible to become permanent residents after three years.

State Anti-Human Trafficking Laws

Federal law has a role to play in ending trafficking, but the state law is a critical component of a comprehensive response to trafficking. Federal agencies and departments can investigate cases that cross state lines and leave the more localized cases to state officials.
Since 2013, all 50 states make it illegal to traffic individuals for commercial sex or forced labor. Before enacting anti-human trafficking laws, some states addressed human trafficking cases through laws such as kidnapping laws and sexual abuse of minor’s laws that were not specifically created to combat human trafficking.

According to 2013 report by the Polaris Project, with data collected by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline, California, Texas, Florida, and New York have the most human trafficking cases in the United States. While the federal classification of both sex trafficking and labor trafficking are generally included in the definition of human trafficking, each state requires slightly different elements in proving the crime of human trafficking.


California is particularly vulnerable because of the number of ports and airports, its location on the border, high immigrant population, and its large economy that includes industries that attract forced labor.

The crime of “human trafficking” in California is defined as:


Texas has high levels of trafficking through Atlanta and Houston due to proximity to the border, demographics, and a large migrant labor force. Texas law defines trafficking as transporting, enticing, recruiting, harboring, providing, or otherwise obtaining another person by any means.
Under the Texas penal code, “Trafficking of Persons” means:

A person commits an offense if the person

(1) Knowingly traffics another person with the intent or knowledge that the trafficked person will engage in forced labor or services; or (2) intentionally or knowingly benefits from participating in a venture that involves  an activity described by Subdivision (1), including by receiving labor or services the  person knows are forced labor or services.


Florida’s large agricultural economy and large immigrant population made it a prime location for forced labor. Under Florida law, “Human trafficking” is defined as transporting, soliciting, recruiting, harboring, providing, enticing, maintaining, or obtaining another person for the purpose of exploitation of that person. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. If the sex trafficking victim is under the age of 18, it is human trafficking regardless of whether force, fraud, and/or coercion exist.

New York

New York, and specifically New York City, has been known as a hub for human trafficking.  New York’s large immigrant population, close proximity to major international airports and other ports of entry, and its industries that lack close regulation all contribute to the high level of human trafficking.

New York’s human trafficking law is the most comprehensive of its kind in the country. New York was the first state to pass a safe harbor law in 2008, ensuring that children are not charged for involvement in prostitution. New York also became the first state to have a system of courts dedicated to human trafficking. 

New York law defines the trafficking in two categories: 

“Labor Trafficking.” A person commits this crime when he or she compels or induces another person to engage in labor, or recruits, entices, harbors, or transports such other person by means of intentionally: (1) providing the victim with certain drugs; (2) requiring servicing of a debt that is caused by a course of conduct, with intent to defraud such person; (3) withholding or destroying government identification documents; (4) using force or engaging in any scheme, plan or pattern to compel or induce such person to engage in labor activity by making that person fearful of one of seven actions or consequences against him or her. 

“Sex Trafficking.” A person commits this crime when he or she intentionally advances or profits from prostitution by: (1) providing the victim with certain drugs; (2) making material false statements; (3) withholding or destroying government identification documents; (4) requiring repayment of a debt; (5) using force or engaging in any scheme, plan, or pattern to compel or induce such person to engage in prostitution by making that person fearful of actions or consequences against him or her. 

Should I Consult a Lawyer About Human Trafficking?

If you know anyone who is or has been a victim of human trafficking, there are legal ways for the victim to remain in the United States while remaining protected from human trafficking. 

An immigration lawyer can help a victim of human trafficking find safe haven in the United States and also prepare any necessary paperwork to establish legal residency.

If you are accused of human trafficking, a criminal defense lawyer is vital in defending against charges.

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Last Modified: 05-05-2016 03:40 PM PDT

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