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Bipartisan bill targets human trafficking

Joe Mont | May 10, 2017

An unlikely pairing is pursuing legislation that seeks to shut down access to the financial system for human traffickers.

U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have introduced legislation to aid financial institutions in identifying and reporting instances of human trafficking, so that offenders can be prosecuted and victims can be protected.

The End Banking for Human Traffickers Act would direct federal banking regulators to work with law enforcement and financial institutions to combat the use of the financial system for human trafficking.

The bill would further increase collaboration between law enforcement and experts in financial crimes by adding financial intelligence and regulatory officers to the President's Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The task force would be required to develop recommendations for Congress and regulators that would strengthen anti-money laundering programs to better target human trafficking.

The legislation would also:

  • Direct federal banking regulators to work with law enforcement and financial institutions to combat the use of the financial system for human trafficking.
  • Require the Interagency Task Force to review existing anti-money laundering programs and, if necessary, develop recommendations for Congress and regulators that would strengthen such programs to better target human trafficking.

"This bill will give financial institutions and regulators additional weapons to fight this terrible crime by helping them cut off traffickers' access to the banking system,” Warren said in a statement.

“We must encourage the development and implementation of effective tools to detect and stop criminals from profiting from this heinous crime,” Rubio said. “This bipartisan legislation would help provide financial institutions and law enforcement with additional support in their ongoing efforts to help stop human trafficking and hold perpetrators accountable."

“Banks, credit card companies, and money transfer companies are all used by traffickers to facilitate their business and the exploitation of their victims,” a statement accompanying the bill says.  “Traffickers aren’t hiding their illegal profits under a mattress or burying it in their backyard—they are laundering it through financial institutions and depositing it an account that they can access from anywhere. Access to the banking system is critical to their illegal operations and it has to stop.”

Denying traffickers access to the financial system will dramatically impact their operations; and information gathered by financial institutions will make it easier to prosecute traffickers without relying entirely on testimony from victims, the statement says.