Navajo Nation makes human trafficking a criminal offense

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, center, signs a resolution on Monday in Window Rock, Ariz. to establish human trafficking on tribal land as a criminal offense.

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation has taken a step against human trafficking in its boundaries by authorizing a law that designates it as a criminal offense.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye signed the tribal council resolution into law Monday in Window Rock, Ariz.

"The Navajo Nation must take appropriate measures to prevent human trafficking, punish the traffickers, assist and protect the victims of such trafficking and protecting their human rights," the resolution states.

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The new law amends the tribe's criminal code and lists human trafficking and forced labor and services as offenses.

Under the law, tribal courts have jurisdiction over human trafficking cases, including those involving non-Native Americans, when a federal law enforcement agency or a federal court declines the matter or does not exercise jurisdiction to prosecute.

A person commits human trafficking if they knowingly recruit, solicit, entice, transport or obtain another individual with the intent or knowledge that force, fraud or coercion will be used to subject the person to labor, services or engaging in sexual activity for money.

Charges can also be filed if a person recruits, solicits, entices, transports or obtains a person under 18 years old for commercial sexual activity.

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The punishment can be up to 365 days in jail and a fine up to $5,000, or both. A trial court may also order restitution be paid to the victim.

The Navajo Nation Council passed the bill on July 19 and it was sponsored by Delegate Nathaniel Brown.

Brown told the council he was unable to gather data about human trafficking on the Navajo Nation because there was no law that required such record keeping, a July 21 press release from the Office of the Speaker states.

Last month, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall addressed the issue of human trafficking in Native American communities during an oversight hearing for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

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The hearing focused on ways the federal government can be more effective in preventing and prosecuting human trafficking as well as improving data collecting for Indian Country, a release from Udall's office states.

The committee, on which Udall serves as vice chairman, requested the U.S. Government Accountability Office to collect data on such activity in native communities.

"Congress must take a long, hard look at how federal agencies collect and monitor data on this issue, ensure their accountability, and then work to provide federal and tribal law enforcement agencies with enough resources to keep Indian Country safe," Udall said in the release.

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Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.