Durbin: Human Trafficking Bill Is A Chance For Bipartisan Cooperation On A Just Cause, Not A Time For Political Grandstanding

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate about the Justice For Victims of Trafficking Act. Durbin urged his Republican colleagues to drop a controversial provision from the bill so the Senate can move forward and pass this important piece of legislation. The problematic provision would expand the so-called Hyde Amendment to restrict the reproductive health choices of victims of human trafficking who receive services funded by the bill. Durbin also spoke about a proposed Republican amendment to the bill that would deny citizenship to millions of children of immigrants who are born in the United States. Durbin made the case that these issues have no place in a debate about a bill that deals with human trafficking.

“Human trafficking in a global scourge and we should be working on a bipartisan basis – and on a bi-cameral basis – to stop it,” Durbin said. “This is an opportunity to pass a bipartisan human trafficking bill, not a grab bag for every notion or idea that any Senator has on any subject.”


Durbin’s full remarks on the Senate floor:


“Mr. President, I’m proud to join several of my colleagues this morning in introducing a substitute amendment to the Justice For Victims of Trafficking  Act of 2015. Human trafficking is a global scourge, and we should be working on a bipartisan basis and a bicameral basis to stop it. However, I’m deeply concerned to learn that our friends on the other side of the aisle have inserted a worrisome provision into this year's version of the bill.

This provision would expand upon the so-called Hyde amendment which restricts funds for women's reproductive health choices. The new language, which has been offered by Senator Cornyn of Texas, would send a new dangerous precedent by enabling Hyde restrictions to apply to non-tax funding streams set forth in this bill. This language paves the way for political leaders in the future to interfere even more with a woman's basic personal health decisions. It sets the tone for dramatic expansion of abortion restriction for years to come.

I’m upset about this provision in that it shouldn't be in this bill. This bill is not about abortion. It’s about human trafficking. Instead, this provision has now become another opportunity for political speeches and delay. The good news is that the Justice For Victims of Trafficking  Act can still be bipartisan, and we have high hopes that it will be. Democrats are ready to work with Republicans to fix this bill and move past the partisan obstacle, which literally stopped us this week from doing anything.

The substitute amendment removes the Hyde restrictions from the Justice For Victims of Trafficking Act. It includes two important bipartisan pieces of legislation: the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act, originally offered by Senator Leahy, and the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act offered by Senator Klobuchar.

We know that congress can work on a bipartisan basis to effectively address this issue. I urge my colleagues, when we look at what we have done so far in this session of Congress, we have very little to show for the time that we've spent here. This is an opportunity to pass a bipartisan human trafficking bill, not a grab bag for every notion or idea that any Senator has on any subject, but one that addresses a very serious, serious issue.

I also know that another Senator from Louisiana on the Republican side has an amendment which he wishes to offer on this bill which again has nothing to do with human trafficking. Senator Vitter offers an amendment that would deny citizenship at birth to children born in the United States unless one of the parents is a U.S. citizen, national permanent resident, or an actively serving arm services member.

As the ranking member on the Constitution Judiciary Subcommittee, let me begin with the obvious for my colleagues in the senate: birth right citizenship is Constitutional right. Congress can't amend the Constitution with a statute. I would think that every Senator knows that. And to put this provision before us is merely to try to provoke a debate on a bill which has no impact on the Constitution. The citizenship clause of the 14th amendment states, and I quote, "all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside." end of quote.

I urge my colleagues, particularly the one offering this amendment, pick up the Constitution and read it. The 14th amendment is as clear as can be. The citizenship clause has been restated and established by four centuries of Anglo-American jurisprudence. The 14th amendment erased a short lived exception to birth right citizenship that was established by the infamous Dred. Scott decision of 1857. We certainly remember that. It was one of the provocations that led to a civil war in this country. We should take this issue extremely seriously. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the 14th amendment applies to U.S.-born children of non-citizens. What part of that does the author of this amendment not understand?

The court rejected arguments that the sons of Chinese nationals, who were forbidden under the Chinese exclusion act from ever becoming a U.S. citizen, could be deprived of citizenship because of his parents' status. The Supreme Court ruled that quote, “Nothing is better settled at the common law than the doctrine that the children, even of aliens, are subjects at birth. Subsequent decisions have backed that up.

The famous case of Plyler v. Doe basically said – the court reasoned – that even if the government wanted to control the conduct of adults, quote “legislation directing the onus of the parents' misconduct against his children does not comport with fundamental concepts of justice." The law is clear.

So this amendment being offered by Senator Vitter is a provocative, unnecessary, and basically feckless effort to stall an important bill that should be passed on a bipartisan basis. I hope my colleagues, whatever feelings on this issue, will understand you cannot amend the Constitution by statute. I thought that was in basic Senate 101, but we've got to get back to it to make clear that my colleagues understand that this important human trafficking bill should not be bogged down or stopped with issues like abortion, as important as it is, which should be saved for a separate debate, or this effort to amend the United States Constitution with an amendment on the floor to a statute. That certainly is not a good way for us to accomplish things in the Senate.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks today on the Senate Floor is available here.

As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, Durbin held two hearings examining human trafficking: a March 2007 hearing entitled “Legal Options to Stop Human Trafficking” and a February 2010 hearing entitled “In Our Own Backyard: Child Prostitution and Sex Trafficking in the United States.”

Following the 2007 hearing, Durbin introduced the Trafficking in Persons Accountability Act with Senator Tom Coburn. The bill made it easier to prosecute perpetrators of human trafficking for crimes committed outside the U.S. and was enacted into law as part of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. Additionally, Durbin requested a landmark GAO report that examined cases of foreign diplomats abusing domestic servants without fear of prosecution, due to their diplomatic immunity. This report received renewed attention in 2013 after an Indian diplomat was arrested in New York for abusing a domestic worker.  


In 2013, Durbin worked to include a provision in the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act that directed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to include protections for children exploited through prostitution in the DOJ model statute for investigation and prosecution of prostitution and pandering.