WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks at a hearing Thursday on the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, and also took the opportunity to raise concerns and later question the witness, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, about the Administration’s proposed reorganization of the State Department:
“Let me thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for this hearing. At this hearing we will review the most recent Trafficking in Persons Report, and as you pointed out, this is one of the great moral challenges of our time. It is modern day slavery. Just last week, I was not present, but the other hat I wear is Ranking Member of the Helsinki Commission. We had our annual meeting of the OSEC Parliamentary Assembly in Minsk, Belarus. Our delegation was very much active and engaged on this issue of trafficking. The U.S. leadership on this globally has made a huge difference. It was the leadership of the United States Congress and the United States government that has raised this issue to the international community, making it clear that we will not tolerate trafficking in persons.
“We will take all necessary steps to end this tragedy. It distorts labor markets; it destroys people, erodes communities and undermines stability and rule of law. It’s fueled by corruption, greed and violence. We will continue in our Trafficking in Persons Report. To me, it’s the gold standard for what is used to have all countries do better.
“I mentioned previously when foreign guests come into my office, whether they’re heads of state or foreign ministers, I have the Trafficking in Persons Report in my office and will review that country’s need for additional progress in order to deal with this. It was with great anticipation that we have this hearing.
“To Ms. Coppedge, I want to thank you for your extraordinary leadership on this issue. We know that you will be doing other things. I want to first and foremost acknowledge that the 2017 Report represents that professional dedication that we expect to see in the Trafficking in Persons Report. I am very pleased with the manner in which this Report was handled and the way that decisions were made. It doesn’t mean that I agree with all of the decisions that were made. I think in regards to China, I applaud you. I think that was absolutely the right decision and I know that it came with some political-diplomatic challenges. It was the right thing to do and I applaud you on it.
“I am going to talk a little bit about Malaysia because I am concerned what happened in Malaysia. It was upgraded to Tier Two. Now that was one of the major countries that we were concerned about in the manner in which it was handled in 2015 because of the apparent connections between the decision made in the TIP Report and the TPP negotiations that were taking place.
“Senator Menendez was one of the principal leaders. He had legislation on this. It seemed to be a very political decision that was made in 2015. Malaysia is home to more than two million documented migrant laborers and millions of more undocumented laborers, many of whom continue to face debt bondage and forced labor. Yet, Malaysia was only able to identify a little over 1,500 trafficking victims. That’s all they could identify. Moreover, Malaysia is yet to prosecute any of the Malaysian officials for their involvement in the Rohingya smuggling rings and mass graves found on the Malaysia-Thai border in 2015. An incredible tragedy in which there has been virtually no progress made in resolving that issue. During the 2017 reporting period, Malaysia authorities released twelve police officers suspected of trafficking—again raising questions of the county’s commitment.
“I know the numbers are higher on the number of cases that have been brought, but as far as concrete results, I haven’t seen it and would be interested as to why the upgrade was made.
I am also happy that Secretary Sullivan is here because I am concerned as to how the reorganization will affect our ability to deal with trafficking issues. I know that there are discussions in regards to the elimination of the Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration and some of those functions being handled by Department of Homeland Security. I also know that there is consideration of the Consular Affairs office being transferred to the Department of Homeland Security. I think in both of those cases it would compromise, not only the mission of the Department of State that I think is critically important, but how we deal with trafficking moving forward.
“I look forward to the Secretary’s testimony and I look forward to our discussion today.”