Intercultural Human Rights Law Review


Chris Kozak

First Page



Half a century ago, Abraham Maslow demonstrated that conditioning a person's physical safety on their participation in some higher-order social project is sheer madness. Yet this is exactly what federal immigration law does to undocumented victims of human trafficking. To receive a visa, victims must first convince Donald Trump's immigration officials-who have a strong interest in deporting them-that they are, in fact, victims. They also must cooperate fully in the prosecution of their trafficker, a process over which they have no real control. This is not a new complaint. Advocates have been frustrated by this myopia for a long time. It's time we do something about this-not as lobbyists, but as lawyers. The federal habeas corpus statute requires courts to order the release of people detained "in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States." These cases are usually brought against the government. But the Thirteenth Amendment and its enforcing statutes are not so limited, and neither the State nor the federal courts have ever confined habeas law to state actors. Abolitionist lawyers used the Great Writ to wrest freed slaves from the clutches of their masters when the political branches lacked the will to help. We can follow their example. Private Habeas proceedings allow advocates to bypass a hostile executive branch and-most importantly-order the legal process according to the victim's hierarchy of needs.