Fighting against human trafficking unites lawmakers, law enforcement, businesses and civic groups. Unfortunately, a proposal that would help trafficking victims was caught up in the ugly political rhetoric surrounding immigration and was vetoed by the governor. This week, I will try to correct that mistake by trying to override that veto. This opinion piece sets the record straight on the proposal.

 

TRAFFICKING VICTIMS DESERVE OUR HELP, NOT HATEFUL RHETORIC

An ugly black market sex trade exists in America.

Under false pretenses it lures or outright kidnaps teenage girls from their countries and forces them into an immoral and inhumane underground trafficking network.

Across the country, businesses, law enforcement, civic groups and many others are working to raise awareness and push back. Key to this effort is empowering victims to come forward knowing they’ll be protected if they help us bring to justice the people behind these human trafficking rings that prey on underprivileged women and children, offering them an escape from poverty only to plunge them into a living nightmare.

In an effort to fight back and go after the real criminals, in 2000, the federal government began offering special immigration visas to victims of these types of crimes who cooperate with law enforcement. The goal is to encourage victims to come out of the shadows and work with police.

We’re talking about horrible, appalling crimes. The list of qualifying criminal activity includes abduction and kidnapping, blackmail, female genital mutilation, being held hostage, incest, involuntary servitude, murder, rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, slave trade, torture and trafficking.

To help the cause, two years ago, Gov. Bruce Rauner enacted a law giving state assistance to these victims while their federal immigration paperwork is processed.

And that brings us to Senate Bill 34, known as the VOICES Act.

Here’s what it does. It sets a deadline for law enforcement to wrap up that paperwork and submit it to federal immigration officials for consideration. It’s needed because some local officials don’t do it, resulting in the victim never being considered for a federal visa. If authorities don’t think the person qualifies, they can say that in the report. All this proposed law does is set a 90-day deadline for finishing and submitting the reports.

It closes a loophole in the process. I know this because I’m the lead sponsor. State lawmakers know this because they voted overwhelmingly to approve it earlier this year.

Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse as campaigns began.

Gov. Rauner, the governor giving these victims state assistance, in the heat of an election campaign, with immigration being a political buzzword, rejected the proposal, claiming it would slow down deportations. His comments had nothing to do with the legislation.

His actions and veto were a mistake.

I’m hoping the lawmakers dedicated to stamping out the black market sex trade will reject his veto. These girls and women need our help. This is a simple proposal that closes a loophole in a system we built together as Republicans and Democrats to push back against these immoral human traffickers and offer empowerment and protection to their victims.

Our democracy gives us a unique opportunity to set the record straight and do the right thing.

I intend to try to override the governor’s veto when we return to work at the Capitol. It is my hope my colleagues and the public at large is prepared to move past the rhetoric of hate and instead offer real solutions to real problems.

John J. Cullerton is president of the Illinois State Senate and lead sponsor of SB 34, the VOICES Act.