Monday, April 16, 2007

Smuggling and trafficking: Democrats see crime victims in immigration saga

Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Chairman Aaron Peña points out on his blog that tomorrow's committee agenda contains several bills aimed at stemming "human trafficking," all authored by Democrats, and also points to this Houston Chronicle editorial on the topic which somewhat clarifies how these differ from straight up immigration bills:
Smuggling and trafficking are often confused, though the two crimes can be interrelated. Trafficking has been called modern-day slavery, involving elements of coercion and exploitation of adults and children, often for sexual purposes but also in a wide range of commercial activity. Smuggling involves transnational transport, including voluntary participation by migrants. Those smuggled into the country are at increased risk of exploitation in the form of trafficking.
Reps Senfronia Thompson and Lon Burnam have similar but slightly differing bills up that would expand the definition of human trafficking to include (in the case of Thompson's HB 3370) "receiving labor or services a person knows are forced," including prostitution. (Burnam's version is HB 3342.) Rep. Gonzalez-Toureilles' HB 1997 goes so far as to create a new offense, which I think is unnecessary and risks clogging state courts with cases that are currently overwhelming federal ones.

Rep. Thompson has another bill up that creates a training package for peace officers on the topic of human trafficking, and Burnam has HB 3340 that provides support for the "victims" of trafficking. Both seem noncontroversial.

One bill up by Rep. Thompson gives me heartburn, though. Her HB 3371 holds people accountable for trafficking in child prostitutes (a first degree felony - 5-99 years) even if they didn't know the victim was under 18. Removing the requirement of foreknowledge might make cases easier to prove, but to me intent is an important distinction, even for heinous crimes.

Anyway, all these bills are on tomorrow's Criminal Jurisprudence Committee agenda. Chairman Peña states on his blog that it's his "intention after listening to the testimony, to find the effective vehicle or vehicles that best assist our state in confronting the moral and legal crisis before us."

These activities are already stiffly punished crimes (which is why Gonzalez Toureilles' bill is unnecessary), so it's good to see the commitee focusing on what can be done to increase enforcement and support victims, which to me are more pressing concerns than "tuffer" sentences for the handful who are caught.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Yeah, but doesn't it make you feel good about our legisliars