DHS uses a victim-centered approach to combating human trafficking, which places equal value on the identification and stabilization of victims, as well as the investigation and prosecution of traffickers. Victims are crucial to investigations and prosecutions. Each case and every conviction changes lives. DHS understands how difficult it can be for victims to come forward and work with law enforcement, due to their trauma. DHS is committed to helping victims feel stable, safe, and secure.
DHS recognizes that a victim-centered investigation means that victims:
- Require social services for stability, safety, and recovery―it is important to note that assistance is not tied to successful prosecution;
- Have rights even if they were complicit in their illegal entry or forced to commit an illegal act during their exploitation;
- Are the key to the successful investigation and prosecution of traffickers; and
- Have the right to be informed and have opportunities to engage in their case throughout the process.
Immediately connecting a victim to support services can get a victim the help they need to recover and bring traffickers to justice.
Blue Campaign can help victims through DHS victim assistance resources, or can help connect victims to services in their community. The following victim assistance programs and services can help stabilize a victim of human trafficking:
Victim Assistance Specialists
Can help by connecting the victim to community-based groups to provide medical, mental health, legal assistance, case management, and other services. During case investigations, Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) victim assistance specialists assess a victim’s needs and work with law enforcement agents to integrate victim assistance considerations throughout a criminal investigation. In the absence of other resources, DHS has an emergency assistance fund which is available for emergency victim assistance needs.
Forensic Interview Specialists
Can conduct developmentally appropriate and legally defensible forensic interviews that are victim and culturally sensitive. If the victim is a child or is traumatized, these Forensic Interview Specialists can aid in investigations.
Local Service Provider Networks
Both the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) support direct services for victims of human trafficking through local, community based service providers. Visit www.usdoj.gov and www.hhs.gov to learn more.
Immigration Relief: Stabilizing Foreign National Victims of Crime
Many foreign-born victims do not have legal status in the United States, and this is a powerful way the trafficker controls victims. Immigration relief is a critical tool because it provides a way for victims to feel secure and stabilize their status in the United States. Without legal status, victims may not be able to stay in the United States, or they may be limited in their access to victim assistance services. Immigration relief can help stabilize a victim without legal status.
Continued Presence (CP)
Is a form of short term immigration relief that allows a potential witness to remain in the U.S. during an investigation. CP should be made available as soon as law enforcement identifies a victim. The investigation does not have to be complete prior to requesting CP, which is requested by law enforcement only. Ask law enforcement to connect directly with the local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (by calling the HSI Tipline at 1-866-347-2423) to request CP.
T or U Nonimmigrant Status (T or U visa)
Are longer term forms of immigration relief that allow victims to remain in the United States and, after a certain amount of time, to apply to become a lawful permanent resident. The T visa is for victims of a severe form of human trafficking. The U visa is for victims of a variety of crimes, including domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, involuntary servitude, and other serious offenses. Both require the victim to assist or cooperate with law enforcement in an investigation or prosecution (unless, for applicants for the T visa, the victim is under 18 or is unable to cooperate due to trauma). The victim applies for a T or U visa, often with the help of a community advocate or attorney, through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Click here to learn more.
Federal Public Benefits
Are available through HHS for victims of a severe form of trafficking who have received certification from HHS. Minor victims (under 18) are eligible for federal public benefits through HHS immediately once they are identified as a victim, and do not need HHS certification. Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 to get help and connect with a service provider in your area.
Declaration or Certification by Law Enforcement
Law enforcement plays a role in the T and U visa process by telling USCIS about the victim’s assistance to law enforcement. Law enforcement fills out a declaration or certification, which informs USCIS about how the victim is assisting law enforcement. For the T visa, this is not required evidence; other evidence can be gathered to show the victim’s assistance. For the U visa, the law enforcement certification is required evidence. The law enforcement declaration or certification alone does not provide the basis for a grant of an immigration benefit, and is only one piece of evidence that USCIS reviews before making a decision. To help a victim learn how to apply, contact USCIS at 1-800-375-5283, or click here to learn more.