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Human Trafficking

Earlier this year, the United States took meaningful action to further prohibit products made by slave labor to enter our country.

Tracy Wolf

Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (S. 178), a bill to enhance protections and increase the infrastructure around restitution for victims of human trafficking. The vote was nearly unanimous, with all but three present Representatives voting in favor of the bill, which was identical to the version the Senate passed a few weeks prior. The bill moves now to the President, who is expected to sign it into law.

Whether you observe Passover according to the strict rules of Jewish law, or you attend one family Seder, or whether your Passover observance is watching The Prince of Egypt, or whatever traditions, practices or customs you find meaningful, the weeks leading up to Passover (April 3-11, 2015) feel like a Jewish March Madness. Between planning Seders, cleaning your house of chametz or mentally preparing yourself for a week of matzah, there’s a lot to get done and it always feels like not enough time.

As we approach the holiday of Passover, I’m starting to think of the commandment in the Haggadah: "in each generation, each person is obligated to see himself or herself [lirot et atzmo] as though he or she personally came forth from Egypt." The commandment has always stuck with me as a call for empathy with our Jewish ancestors, yet after working on immigration reform for the past year, I see the commandment as a way of forming a connection to our immigrant history. For what is “coming forth from Egypt” but immigrating to another land?

As we prepare for Passover in only a few weeks, we know that celebrating Passover connects us as Jews – to our families, to our communities and the broader Jewish people. Passover also unites us with humanity. Many people across our country and our world have experienced oppression and persecution. Although we were once slaves, avadim hayinu, we now are free—but too many in the world are not. Modern-day slavery is one of the most profoundly troubling plagues of our time. The innumerable people who are trafficked for sex work or domestic work all have one thing in common: their freedom has been taken from them.

Too often, we conceive of slavery as problem of the past, a moral lapse that has been corrected. The truth is, however, that more people are enslaved today than were enslaved at any other point in world history. The International Labor Organization, an agency of the United Nations, estimates that 21 million people across the globe are trafficked into forced labor, bonded labor, forced child labor and sexual servitude—all forms of modern slavery.


January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, so named by the President in order to acknowledge this nation’s painful history of slavery and to highlight the nation’s commitment to freedom. For many Americans, January is also the exciting lead-up to the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, this flagship of America’s pastime has become marred by some of the darker aspects of society today. According to leading advocates and law enforcement agencies, the culminating event of football season brings with it some of the largest sex trafficking operations in the country. While there is no concrete way to measure the number of people that have been, or will be trafficked in Glendale, Arizona over the weekend, Miami police in 2010 estimated that 10,000 people had been trafficked as prostitutes for that year’s game.