March 31, 2006

Human Trafficking: Where Have All the Data Gone?

I have stumbled upon a bit of an abyss. There is a discrepancy in the information available on human trafficking. As a side issue to immigration "reform," human trafficking, also called trafficking in persons (TIP) or modern day slavery, is relevant to the current political discourse. Thus, I have been formulating some blog posts, emails and handouts on trafficking. There are a number of good books available on trafficking (Human Traffic: Sex, Slaves and Immigration, The Traffic in Women, Global Human Smuggling) but I was in search of some online resources to use as blog links. What I have found is shocking in its absence.

I set about web-sleuthing for information on trafficking in the United States. As a researcher, I am quite savvy about finding what I am looking for, but after several days of searching I began to doubt my abilities. I was finding nothing that discussed statistics on trafficking inside the United States. I contacted some people I know who work in immigration, aiding refugees, and asked them where I might go to find reliable statistics. They sent me to a few general information websites that did not have numbers on trafficking in the U.S. (These are wonderful sites which are active in preventing trafficking and aiding victims around the world, which is of course vital, but not what I was looking for)

What I did find was startling. The number "16,000" was sited several places as a number of persons trafficked in the U.S. every year. If you need a reference: the total population of Pace University is about 15,000. But here's the part of this number that is not explained on the web: 16,000 is the estimated number of foreign nationals that are brought to the U.S. each year... not including the victims that are still enslaved from last year and the year before and the year before. Additionally, every expert I spoke to indicated that 16,000 is low. I have also located online sources that use the number 40,000-50,000, but have been unable to speak with any representatives of these organizations to substantiate the calculation of these numbers. But what it suggests is that there are no reliable statistics.

I was also directed to the 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report, issued by Codoleezza Rice in June of last year. And while there is a section that outlines the U.S. government's efforts to prevent and address trafficking, the language is mostly targeted towards prosecuting the smugglers and ending child sex tourism. The report says little about Americans who exploit trafficked persons inside the U.S. Additionally, the TIP report has a section entitled "Country Narratives,"which I was hopeful would contain some numbers on U.S. trafficking. However, what I discovered was: "United Arab Emirates", "United Kingdom", "Uruguay", "Uzbekistan". Now, I'm no spelling champ, but I think that "United States" comes in there somewhere.

Dealing with human trafficking also means addressing the problem of Americans exploiting Americans. Children, particularly runaways and foster children, are at the greatest risk. There are sources that suggest 400,000 children are prostituted in the U.S. every year. According to one source, the Justice Department believes that there are between 100,000 and 3 million children involved in prostitution in the U.S. every year.

The data that do exist are sickening. But there is a shortage of good, reliable information, which results in a lack of awareness. So I am proposing two things: one, check your numbers! I call the contact numbers available on websites and ask them about their statistics. Often the true numbers are not accurately displayed. Two, consider becoming active in the battle against human trafficking. Raising awareness can be as easy as taking a picture or having a conversation.

March 23, 2006

In the Business of Making Automatons

Welcoming Big Brother
It’s been quiet around campus this week; it’s Spring break. Yet, things are brewing since a big-name politician visited the school and was heckled by 2 students—yes, two out of hundreds present. It was horrible. These two “anarchists” got up, yelled, “war criminal”, and sat down. This “unauthorized protest” took no more than a few seconds. In the ambient sounds of the auditorium and the exaltation on stage, what those poopers shouted wasn’t really audible. I was sitting near them and I couldn't understand what they were yelling about.

Most of us treat such events as a normal occurrence in a democracy. No harm done. As a matter of fact, politicians usually take the opportunity to point out how different we are from those other undemocratic countries. The “evil empire” and the “axis of evil” don’t allow for such dissent. Mad Saddam made it a serious crime to satirize & critique him—the most enlightened and gracious leader. That's over there; we have the rule of law here, and citizens have plenty of rights. We believe that our government can’t act arbitrarily outside the law, to spy on us & search our possessions us without warrant, to squelch free speech, and to make sure that our right to vote (and our votes counted accurately) will not be infringed. Well, sorry to report, not all of us Americans hold that view.

We know that the present government uses the politics of fear. The “war president” and his administration have nothing else to stand on—they’ve messed up on all matters pertaining to the common good—except to keep reminding us that we live in a time of terrorism and strong-armed policies are necessary to combat the enemy who’s everywhere, in a war without fronts & without end. Hello, Big Brother, may I take your order? All right, you say, we still have some bastions of free inquiry, discussion, and even dissent. They are our universities, where we value free speech so much that we give tenure to professors in order to shield them from the community and from those who may not like what they profess! To this I reply, not so fast! The disease of acquiescing and deferring to the wisdom of the rulers has taken hold here too.

How then would you explain that a university is considering punitive action, up to and including expulsion, against those protesting students? “They didn’t have a permit for a protest,” I heard someone of authority saying! Yes, you need to file a petition way ahead of time and obtain a permit to hold up a sign on school grounds to protest against a visiting politician! Surely, you have rights of free speech, unless the administration forgets to issue the permit in time for the event, and unless your speech is embarrassing to the powers that be. Well done. Wait, there’s more. Like many things in life, the actual event may not be of a great significance, but the reaction often makes a lot more noise. Likewise in this case, it’s not “the crime” that’s generating the controversy but the subsequent treatment of it.

After the two students sat down in their seats, the police and the Secret Service took them into custody. This on private property of a sovereign university. Without the presence of any representative from the school, the students were detained for 45 minutes. According to them, they were told that the police could detain them for 72 hours and order a psychiatric evaluation [I suppose they meant the students, not the other hotheads]; they were also asked to sign a release form so their medical records could be examined [as if the government really asks for permission nowadays]. Then the students, along with four more people in their party, were escorted to their cars. The police asked them if they had any illegal drugs in their cars, because, they were told that if they admitted the had contraband before the search took place, “it would be better.”

I don’t know what probable cause, and I mean reasonable probable cause, the police had to search the protestors vehicles, but they did and found nothing our of the ordinary. Until today, I haven’t heard a good explanation regarding what rules these students broke to justify their appalling treatment.

A recent poll showed that 49% of all Americans would give the President any authority to do whatever to keep us safe. Any! Aren’t we supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave? Ben Franklin wisely observed that those who seek to exchange liberty for safety deserve neither. Aren’t we supposed to have institutions where free speech is cultivated and dissent is an aspect of a free people engaging in a public discourse? I find it distressing that educated people entrusted with promoting knowledge & empowering the younger generations have a dim and narrow view of civic activism and political engagement.

Editor's note: In the Comments section, the official response by the University is posted.

March 16, 2006

In the Devil's Territory

Since my recent run-in with the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) I have done a bit of thinking about where, exactly, this system went awry. And why has it not been mended appropriately? Immigration reform is a hot topic in Washington, and yet I am skeptical that anything meaningful will be done to repair this mortally injured system.

I have now been there. 26 Federal Plaza, while heavily secured, is an Administrative Assistant's worst nightmare. There are towering stacks of books on desks each looking more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa than the last. There are rows of offices with various papers littering the floors. There are more cubicles than Rain Man could count. The scene behind the one-way glass doors is veritable mayhem.

Additionally, the immigration officials engage in behavior that, while understandable in the private world, is totally unconscionable for an immigration official:
Immigration: I need to see your receipt.
Customer: Uh, uh, no... uh (clearly is not fluent in English ) Uhhh...(shuffling of papers as he displays a variety of pieces of paper to the officer)
Immigration: (louder, without looking at the papers) You are required to display your receipt!
Customer: ressit?
Immigration: (louder) you MUST show me your NOTICE OF ACTION!

O.k. who here finds "Notice of Action" clearer than "receipt?" I don't even know what a Notice of Action is.

It is impossible to fully explain what the experience is like, and this, I believe is at the root of the problem. Not enough of the voting population has been through the USCIS system. One gains a profound appreciation for what does and does not work within a system, when one actually goes through it. This is why I feel the need to use my own story, and speak about immigration in the first person. I have hundreds of books and articles on immigration issues and I have studied much of the current research on immigration, but by actually having a case and being processed by USCIS I have gained a knowledge that is unique and invaluable. The experience, as I found it, has not been captured in any of the material I have read.

Here's my analogy: the DMV is notorious for being difficult to deal with. Most of us find the DMV to be a time vacuum staffed with drones who can't help you beyond reading the bureaucratically produced card in front of them. We all hate going to the DMV. However, it seems to have gotten better. Yes, yes there are bad days at the DMV, but I have not heard anyone say that it is significantly worse than it used to be. USCIS is the DMV on it's worst day. Instead of the process taking hours or days, it takes years and decades. I would rather have gone to the DMV everyday for the last two years than deal with USCIS for even one day. I am without a hint of doubt when I say that if the DMV was as bad as USCIS, there would be riots in the streets.

Unfortunately, the people serviced by USCIS are, most often, in precarious positions. They are beholden to the government office for their rights to live here or work here or seek refuge here. For many, their lives depend on approval by the USCIS. These are not people who are likely to riot in the streets. The inner workings of the USCIS are experienced by people who are not likely to point out the shortcomings and demand change.

So as an educated American citizen, I am here to attest that the USCIS is archaic and dysfunctional, and we must fix it. How do we fix it? I am not entirely sure what the answer is, but I am not at all inclined to believe that anyone who has not been through the USCIS process can develop an effective plan for change. I can say from experience, that even the most empathetic or the most educated of people could not appreciate the atrocities that lurk within the USCIS system. I propose that before anyone (... that includes the White House) formulates an opinion on how to reform the immigration system they need to consult with someone who has actually been processed by USCIS.

March 15, 2006

Welcome to this POLI.SCI. blog

A Pace Forward
The first step is now taken, but many more paces are required to give legs to this blog. Professors, students, staff, are all encouraged to submit posts, so we can have an exciting dialogue here, freely and without any "official" approval. Welcome!

The Comments section is open & unrestricted to all and we hope it stays this way. If anyone wishes to write an essay, please send it via email to one of the blog's administrators/contributing editors so we can post it for you.