Lessons Learned from Super Bowl 50: Human Trafficking

Lessons Learned from Super Bowl 50: Human Trafficking

It was not too long ago that the San Francisco Bay Area hosted the biggest sporting event in the United States—Super Bowl 50. It was reported that at least 1 million people participated in the activities and events leading up to the big game.1

Although the commercial success of Super Bowl 50 attracted visitors and revenue to the Bay Area, the magnitude of the event also provided an ideal setting for human trafficking to take place. In the midst of crowds getting ready for frenzied fun, the atmosphere created a prime ground to force victims into coerced prostitution and slave labor without anyone taking notice. Unfortunately, many do not realize that mass human trafficking happens every day and not only during major sporting events.

In anticipation of Super Bowl 50, there were several campaigns, trainings and operations against human trafficking that involved law enforcement, local organizations and federal law enforcement agencies.2 For example, the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition held a Freedom Summit at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara to find ways to raise awareness about the issue and fight against human trafficking.3

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign, also held informational events about human trafficking, including how to identify possible victims and what resources and immigration benefits are available to them.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as part of the National Johns Suppression Initiative, also conducted a nationwide cooperative in conjunction with local and federal enforcement agencies to combat human trafficking.4 The FBI reported that the two-week operative in the Bay Area alone resulted in 85 arrests for solicitation, the apprehension of 12 pimps and contact with 129 adult sex workers.5

Now that Super Bowl 50 is in the past, we must reflect on our increased awareness of human trafficking and our role as advocates moving forward. Human trafficking does not end with the conclusion of a major sporting event; in fact, it is a revolving and persistent problem in the Bay Area that calls for increased efforts year-round.

Many human trafficking victims go undetected because we are not aware that these inhumane practices are happening in our own backyard. The fact is that many victims are immigrants who are transported from their home communities to unknown destinations without any source of protection or support.

They are left defenseless and afraid to come forward and identify themselves to law enforcement. Unfortunately, many of these victims are not aware that they could potentially qualify for an immigration benefit called a “T” visa that was specifically created to protect them.

T Visa Overview

In October 2000, Congress created the “T” nonimmigrant status by passing the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA). The stated purpose of this legislation was to combat the trafficking of victims who are forced into the sex trade, slavery and involuntary servitude.6

The T visa allows victims to remain in the U.S. to assist in the investigation or prosecution of human trafficking. The T visa not only provides victims with lawful status in the U.S. for four years, but it also provides a path for lawful permanent residence as well as U.S. citizenship in the future.

The basic requirements for T visa eligibility are set forth in Section 101(a)(15)(T) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. A noncitizen is eligible if it is determined that he or she:

  1. Is or has been a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons;7
  2. Is physically present in the United States,8 American Samoa, or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or a port-of-entry to thereto, on account of such trafficking, including physical presence on account of the alien having been allowed entry into the United States for participation in investigative or judicial processes associated with an act or a perpetrator of trafficking;
  3. Either:
    • Has complied with any reasonable request for assistance in the federal, state or local investigation or prosecution of acts of trafficking or the investigation of crime where acts of trafficking are at least one central reason for the commission of that crime; or is unable to cooperate with a request described due to physical or psychological trauma; or
    • Has not attained 18 years of age;
  4. Would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm upon removal.9

Although the statute’s basic eligibility requirements for a T visa appear simple, it is a complex process that places the burden on the victim to prove that he or she is eligible for a T visa.10 The first major hurdle is proving that the noncitizen was a victim of “severe form of trafficking in persons.”11 This is defined as:

  • Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  • The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.

To prove that a person was a victim of “severe form of trafficking,” he or she may submit either an endorsement of a law enforcement agency, evidence that continued presence has been arranged to assist in the investigation or prosecution of traffickers in persons or by submitting sufficient credible secondary evidence describing the nature and scope of any force, fraud or coercion used against the victim.12

Unless the victim is under the age of 18 (for a commercial sex act),13 showing that the victim was specifically forced, defrauded or coerced into performing either commercial sex or labor could make it challenging to be classified as a victim. For example, if an alleged victim escapes before being forced to engage in any act or if the individual was never forced to engage in a commercial sex act, then it becomes even more difficult to show that trafficking took place.

This is just one of many hurdles that could be the difference between obtaining lawful status through a T visa and being denied such a benefit outright. For this reason, victims of human trafficking should never navigate this form of relief without adequate legal representation and advocacy.

T visas are an avenue for relief and a source of hope for those seeking a way out of human trafficking. There are still many unidentified human trafficking victims that will never get a chance to apply for a T visa. This is why we must have increased awareness and involvement in helping identify these victims, whether it be during major sporting events or not.


[1] Super Bowl 50 Sets Records Across the Board (Feb. 10, 2016). http://www.sfbaysuperbowl.com/super-bowl-50-sets-records-across-the-board#xQaUMtsbpxhQyuiA.97.
[2] San Francisco Collaborative Against Human Trafficking – 2016 Human Trafficking Awareness Campaign Calendar. www.sfcaht.org.
[3] Lapchick, Richard E. (Feb. 5 2016), Human trafficking is the Super Bowl of suffering. http://espn.go.com/espn/story/_/id/14720095/the-scope-human-trafficking-continues-grow-awareness.
[4] Salonga, Robert (Feb. 9, 2016). Super Bowl 50: Human trafficking crackdown yielded dozens of arrests, citations. San Jose Mercury News. http://www.mercurynews.com/sports/ci_29495319/super-bowl-50-human-trafficking-crackdown-yielded-dozens.
[5] Lybager, Jeremy (Feb. 10, 2016). FBI releases Post-Super Bowl trafficking stats, but says it doesn’t track the number of prostitutes arrested. SF Weekly. http://www.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2016/02/10/fbi-releases-post-super-bowl-trafficking-stats-but-says-it-doesnt-track-the-number-of-prostitutes-arrested.
[6] Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, Pub. L. 106-386, 114 Stat. 1464.
[7] 22 U.S.C. Sec. 7102 (9)(A-B).
[8] 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1101(a)(38).
[9] https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/8/1101.
[10] 8 C.F.R. Sec. 214.11.
[11] 22 U.S.C. Sec. 7102 (9)(A-B). https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/22/7102.
[12] 8 C.F.R. Sec. 214.11(f).
[13] Id.

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