The withdrawal of a federal grant to Catholic Charities means human trafficking victims' assistance in Oregon has been curtailed.
As of Nov. 30, the Portland-based social service agency was forced to reduce services and outreach to immigrant victims of human trafficking because it will no longer receive a two-year $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime.
The rejection appears to be part of a trend since a 2009 lawsuit filed against a federal agency by the American Civil Liberties Union. In the ongoing suit, the ACLU complains that federal officials should choose contractors that provide abortion and contraception as part of their services.
Catholic Charities operated the only program in Oregon with comprehensive assistance to foreign-born survivors of human trafficking. Abortion and contraception were not among the offerings.
The federal grant made it possible for three Catholic Charities staff members to assist immigrants who have been sold into forced domestic service and prostitution. The program helped victims find attorneys and apply for special visas. Catholic Charities workers also provided case management, translation, housing, medical care and transportation.
“The loss of the program will leave a major gap in services to immigrant victims of human trafficking in Oregon,” said Chris Killmer, the program coordinator. “Victims will be more likely to fall through the cracks, and those who are identified will face the challenge of piecing together resources from several different agencies, a near impossible feat for this particular population.”
In October, the Department of Justice informed Catholic Charities the funding will go to alternate social service programs — none of which operate in Oregon.
Kara McCarthy, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, did not specify why the funds were moved.
The offices of neither Sen. Ron Wyden, a champion against human trafficking, nor Sen. Jeff Merkley answered calls placed by the Catholic Sentinel.
Catholic Charities will continue to act as an information and referral service for any immigrant survivor identified in Oregon, providing an initial screening and some advocacy. Catholic Charities says it currently provides full trafficking victims’ assistance to 40 clients in Oregon.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is crying foul because its Migration and Refugee Services was denied federal human trafficking grants in favor of entities that scored lower in an assessment of qualifications. Johnny Young, director of the bishops' office for refugees, has confronted Health and Human Services officials about the grant decision and is awaiting an answer.
The Health and Human Services Office for Refugee Resettlement, which gave those grants, is currently being sued by the ACLU for working with Catholic programs that do not provide abortion and birth control for clients. Critics say that suit has caused federal officials to avoid Catholic programs.
"In the hierarchy of needs for trafficking victims, it would seem that safety, food, shelter, legal support and medical care have priority," says a blog post by Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops. "Do trafficking victims who fear that their traffickers will kill them for escaping think 'contraceptives first'?"