Monday, May 15, 2017

Trump’s New Bank Regulator: Lawyer Who Helped Banks Charge More Fees

Keith Noreika helped big banks avoid state laws protecting consumers. As head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, he now has the power to override those state laws.

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By Cezary Podkul

In the early 2000s, banks successfully sued to stop Iowa from limiting their ability to charge ATM fees to non-customers. They also fought off states’ attempts to stop them from charging non-customers to cash checks drawn on the banks’ accounts. In another case, they stopped California from forcing two banks to conduct audits of their own residential mortgages.
What do all these cases have in common? The winning argument in each was that states had no right to impose their laws on federally regulated national banks. And the man who helped make that powerful argument was Keith Noreika — President Trump’s pick to head the federal agency that oversees national banks.
Noreika, a prominent Washington attorney who specializes in financial regulatory law, has made a career out of representing banks as they sought to fight back consumer-friendly state regulations and class-action lawsuits accusing banks of deceptive practices.
He is now the acting head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a position he can serve for 130 days without Senate approval and during which he does not have to abide by stricter ethics rules governing permanent appointees.
As head of the OCC, Noreika will be well-positioned to lighten regulations on banks — without the need for Congress to pass legislation.
Among the targets may be the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street overhaul, which made it easier for states to hold national banks accountable. Noreika has criticized the law’s burdens, while Trump has called it “horrendous.”
Under Dodd-Frank, the head of the OCC has broad power to review and preempt states’ consumer finance laws.
“The first way to change the regulations is to put in regulators who will propose to stop enforcing them,” said Andy Green, a former Democratic Senate staffer who helped craft the 2010 law and now works at the liberal Center for American Progress.
Noreika’s ascension fits into a broader pattern of Trump administration appointees. Many of them have worked to influence the same agencies they’ve now been assigned to lead. And while Trump has been slow to name people to positions that require Senate confirmation, he has been quick to install officials out of public view.
Through an OCC spokesman, Noreika declined to be interviewed. But he said in a statement:
“I am proud to have had an effective law practice where I represented clients of all types — banks, institutions, individuals, and a large labor union.”
He added:
“I do think that ten years after the crisis and seven years after the passing of Dodd-Frank, now is a good time to take stock of the rules implemented and actions taken to ensure the nation has the right sense of balance and coherence in regulating financial institutions.”
(Read his full statement here.)
Noreika’s appointment has raised the ire of Democratic lawmakers.
“You have chosen to replace the current head with an acting head who is unvetted, has obvious conflicts of interest, and lacks the experience to run an agency that employs almost 4,000 individuals,” seven Democratic Senators wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday.
Noreika is following in the footsteps of his mentor, John Dugan, who worked with Noreika at the corporate law firm Covington & Burling — before himself leaving to head the OCC from 2005 to 2010.
Under Dugan, the OCC was criticized as being too friendly to banks in the face of widespread lending abuses that fueled the financial crisis. While Noreika now heads up the OCC, Dugan is back at Covington, where his bio says he “advises clients on a range of legal matters affected by significantly increased regulatory requirements resulting from the financial crisis.”
Some say it’s too early to draw any conclusions on how Dugan’s protégé will run the agency.
“I don’t think you should assume that what a lawyer argues for a client is indicative of how he or she would react when you’re administering the law,” said H. Rodgin Cohen, senior chairman of Sullivan & Cromwell, a prominent corporate law firm.
Consumer advocates are particularly concerned about Noreika’s frequent reliance on the argument that federal banking laws and OCC regulations trump state laws — a concept known as preemption.
In 2005, when Noreika became a partner at Covington, the firm noted that “many of Mr. Noreika’s cases have challenged the validity of state and local laws as preempted by the federal banking laws” and listed Wells Fargo and Bank of America as prominent clients.
ProPublica identified more than a dozen such cases filed in federal court from 2000 through 2005. Most were dismissed or settled in banks’ favor.
“That’s a real problem,” said Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center in Washington, D.C. “States often have laws that protect consumers in areas where there are no national laws.”
Banking lawyers say it only makes sense to give precedence to federal banking laws. Otherwise, national banks would end up dealing with 50 different regulators rather than one — the OCC. That was the whole point behind Congress’ creation of the agency during the Civil War, when states’ conflicting regulations made banking and commerce more difficult.
But in the years before the financial crisis, as abuses in the mortgage-lending markets began to surface, the OCC was slow to act. States did act. Between 1999 and 2007, North Carolina and about 30 other states passed laws targeting predatory lending practices.
The OCC, meanwhile, adopted sweeping regulations that prevented those laws from applying to national banks and extended that protection to the banks’ state-chartered subsidiaries. In 2008, then-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer accused the agency of embarking “on an aggressive and unprecedented campaign to prevent states from protecting their residents.”  
At the time, Dugan brushed off the criticism. “Almost everyone who has paid attention to the subprime lending crisis has concluded that OCC-regulated national banks were not the problem,” he said in a statement responding to Spitzer.
But two separate inquiries — the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commissionand a report by the U.S. Senate Banking Committee — disagreed. The commission concluded that the OCC’s preemption of state laws ended up “preventing adequate protection for borrowers and weakening constraints” on risky mortgages.
The banks used the OCC to engage in “regulatory arbitrage,” said Arthur Wilmarth, a professor at the George Washington University Law School.
Dugan did not return phone calls but said in an email, “I disagree categorically with Wilmarth.” He referred his testimony to the crisis investigators, in which he said the financial crisis was “not caused by federal preemption of state mortgage lending laws.” Instead, Dugan said, “the root cause of the mortgage crisis was exceptionally weak underwriting standards.”
In 2007, as Dugan presided over the OCC, Noreika and his Covington colleagues won the biggest preemption victory of all, Watters vs. Wachovia Bank. The case evolved from separate federal lawsuits involving banks that had sought to shield their subsidiaries from state laws and subsequently faced collapse or fell into legal trouble for their business practices — WachoviaNational City Bank of Cleveland and Wells Fargo. Wilmarth advised state banking regulators on the cases.
The cases were merged and went all the way up to the Supreme Court, where Noreika argued that state laws didn’t apply to subsidiaries of national banks like Wachovia. In a 5-3 vote, the high court agreed.
Preemption became an even bigger issue after the 2008 collapse of several big banks, including Wachovia. Local governments tried to sue banks for alleged misdeeds, but again were blocked by preemption.
By then, Congress was working on Dodd-Frank, and preemption was a hotly debated area of reform. One of the changes Congress enacted as part of the law was to negate the effect of the Supreme Court decision that Noreika had litigated. Dodd-Frank also gave local law enforcement authorities more power to bring lawsuits against national banks under state laws. And it created a revised set of rules under which the OCC can review state banking laws to determine if they should be preempted.
The responsibility for those reviews falls to the head of the OCC — now Noreika. He has the power to determine if a state consumer finance law is preempted by federal law.
“He will now have his hand on the preemption button,” said Wilmarth, the George Washington University law professor.

In Heat of Dakota Access Protests, National Sheriffs' Association Lobbied for More Military Gear

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By Steve Horn

At the end of 2016, as a mix of sheriffs, police, and private security forces were clashing with those protesting the Dakota Access pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, the National Sheriffs' Association was lobbying Congress for surplus military gear and on undisclosed issues related to the now-operating oil pipeline. This information comes from federal lobbying disclosure forms reviewed by DeSmog.
The National Sheriffs' Association, a trade association representing sheriffs' departments nationwide, hired the firm Ervin Hill Strategy to lobby on its behalf during quarter four of 2016 and quarter one of 2017. Lobbyist and former congressional staffer John Blount was assigned to the cause. Blount did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
The multi-state policing response at Standing Rock came under sharp criticism due to its highly militarized nature against the Native American-led opposition. Spurred by the North Dakota governor's emergency declaration, law enforcement officials nationwide began pouring into North Dakota under the auspices of the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC)

The lobbying disclosure comes as sheriff departments in rural America now look to the Dakota Access response as a policing crisis model, with some already bracing for similar demonstrations against the recently approved Keystone XL and Diamond pipelines.

“Professional Protesters”

Under what is known as the Defense Department's 1033 program, state- and local-level law enforcement agencies have the ability to purchase unused military gear from the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Logistics Agency. On its lobbying disclosure form, the Sheriffs' Association cited 1033, which goes by the motto “from warfighter to crimefighter.”
Throughout the duration of the Standing Rock encampment in North Dakota, the Sheriffs' Association served as a vocal critic of those participating, writing in an October 2016 letter to then-U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch that those protesting were “illegally preventing the completion of a project under the guise of environmental and cultural concerns — an obvious ruse.”
“They are threatening ranchers and farms and trespassing onto private property to intimidate and scare local citizens,” wrote the association in its letter. “It is nothing less than lawless behavior perpetrated by professional protesters with no vested interest in the Pipeline nor any ties to the communities they claim will be affected.”

TigerSwan Funding

Founded in 1940 and headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, the Sheriffs' Association has a $3.46 million budget, according to its most recently filed tax forms.
Some of the organization's funding comes from corporate sources, according to its website, which includes the private security company TigerSwan. As DeSmog reported in October 2016, TigerSwan maintains offices in both Iraq and Afghanistan and is run by a special forces Army veteran. TigerSwan was put “in charge of Dakota Access intelligence and supervises the overall security,” according to an investigation conducted by Morton County in North Dakota.
James Reese, TigerSwan's founder and CEO, formerly served as an adviser to the multinational private security firm Blackwater. Dubbed “the world's most powerful mercenary army” by investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater was founded by Trump campaign donor and transition team member Erik Prince, the brother of U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos.

Post-Ferguson Lobbying

Beyond its lobbying efforts, the Sheriffs' Association has also made a public call for President Donald Trump to reverse the ban on sending military gear to local police agencies. President Barack Obama enacted this moratorium in the aftermath of the chaos and violence that followed the police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
“Sheriffs will work closely with President-Elect Donald J. Trump to repeal Obama’s Executive Order,” the organization stated in December. “We are hopeful the new administration is more supportive of law enforcement’s important work to protect people in harm’s way, instead of the previous administration’s repeated moves to cripple and prevent us from defending and helping citizens in need.”
President Trump spoke to and met with representatives from the Sheriffs' Association in February. At the White House meeting, the association showed its appreciation to Trump for helping push its agenda by gifting him a “new sheriff in town” sculpture, which was reportedly its first time ever giving one to someone outside law enforcement.

“Let me tell you the difference of six months,” Sheriffs' Association executive director Jonathan Thompson said at the meeting, according to a White House transcript. “I sat in this room, in this chair, and I was pleading — I was begging for help. Today, you’ve invited us here to your home. You're offering help. You're delivering on that offer. And on behalf of our members across the country, thank you.”
As an organization, the Sheriffs' Association had remained dormant on federal-level lobbying activity until the aftermath of Ferguson, according to forms reviewed by DeSmog. Blount, the Ervin Hill Strategy lobbyist for the Sheriffs' Association, also currently serves other military contractor clients including General DynamicsNorthrup Grumman, and Aerojet Rocketdyne

Dakota Access Owner Coordinates with Sheriffs

As protests heated up at Standing Rock in October, the Morton County Sheriffs' Department requested support from the Sheriffs' Association, which coincided with out-of-state cops flooding the state in assistance.
In December, DeSmog reported on an audio recording first obtained and published by New York Daily News writer Shaun King, in which Energy Transfer Partners executive Matthew Ramsey said that the Sheriffs' Association worked in close coordination with his company, the pipeline's majority owner, against those opposing it at Standing Rock. 
We met with some of the officials in North Dakota [during a recent trip to the state],” said Ramsey in the recording. “We met with the National Sheriff's Association. People are tired of this. They're tired of seeing what's going on in the community and we think that the tide has turned and people are understanding what a great project this would be for the State of North Dakota.”
Indeed, the Sheriffs’ Association did send training staff and office personnel to Standing Rock. The group tasked Dane County, Wisconsin Sheriff Dave Mahoney with training North Dakota agencies, which had little experience policing protests.
“When the situation in North Dakota began over the pipeline, I had been asked by the National Sheriff’s Association and by the Department of Justice to travel to North Dakota to speak to the sheriffs who didn’t have much experience with large gatherings,” Mahoney said in an interview.
While adamant his police force handled the response in Standing Rock in the same peaceful way as in 2011, when the Dane County Sheriff's Office handled over 100,000 people protesting Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker's Budget Repair Bill, the results in North Dakota tell a different story.
Greg Champagne, president of the National Sheriffs' Association and sheriff of St. Charles Parish in Louisiana, was also intimately involved in Standing Rock. In late October, Champagne traveled there for a publicity appearance, which was funded by the EMAC agreement. He was toured around the police lines and the construction sites, afterwards posting on Facebook a lengthy rebuttal to protesters and the media, which received 46,000 shares.
The St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office also sent two cameramen to video the cleanup after the eviction of demonstrators at one of the Standing Rock encampments. An open records request for that footage is still pending.
For its part, the Sheriffs’ Association told DeSmog, “What we were trying to do was help the local sheriffs, as a national organization, to coordinate the actions through the EMAC to get them people that would make themselves available.”
The association added that although the intent of its coordination was not to train law enforcement officials present at Standing Rock, that “per things like this, there is always training going on and coordinated tactics between North Dakota, Wyoming, Wisconsin or whoever else was there. We are also helpful with guidance and coordinating the knowledge as well by having people there like Dave [Mahoney, the Dane County Sheriff] who have better knowledge of large protest gatherings.”

Sheriffs Tackle Bayou Bridge

In the aftermath of Standing Rock, the Sheriffs' Association has remained active on pipelines owned by Energy Transfer Partners, including its proposed Bayou Bridge pipeline through Louisiana.
As DeSmog previously reported, Joseph Lopinto — an attorney with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana and former Republican state legislator — criticized the federal government's Standing Rock response while speaking on behalf of the National Sheriffs’ Association at a February public meeting related to the Bayou Bridge pipeline.

The federal government failed to provide local law enforcement [in Standing Rock, North Dakota] with support to control hostile, often violent protesters that caused millions of dollars in property damage and shot at law enforcement officers,” he said at the convening. “The federal government failed to provide local law enforcement with the resources they need to deal with violent and unruly protests.”

Policing Protest

The intervention of the Sheriffs’ Association in social justice movements, such as the one at Standing Rock, is not unprecedented.
During the civil rights era, the Sheriffs' Association policed protests in Alameda County, California, which houses the City of Berkeley and the University of California. The association's California state representative, Alameda County Sheriff Frank Madigan, described these policing efforts during a 1970 congressional hearing about the Black Panther Party.
“Prior to World War II, I worked in the field as an investigator of subversives and now I am seeing the children back in the scene, what we call the Red-diaper babies getting into the act,” remarked Madigan. “Since Berkeley has become a Mecca we are getting dissidents from all over the country.”
“Red diaper baby” was a term applied to the child of socialists or communists (either self-described or as described by law enforcement officials), and was generally meant as a pejorative and to discredit. The Black Panther Party and campus-based antiwar movement, which were the subject of the 1970 hearing, were at the time the target of extensive surveillance and attempted disruption under the FBI's COINTELPRO (short for Counterintelligence Program). COINTELPRO eventually was scrutinized in a U.S. Senate probe known as the Church Committee investigation (named after then-U.S. Sen. Frank Church), and nominally came to an end.
Alex Vitale, a professor of criminology at Brooklyn College and author of the forthcoming book The End of Policing, told DeSmog that Standing Rock and the role of the Sheriffs' Association serves as a case study of broader policing trends seen during social movements.
The 1033 program [lobbied for by the Sheriffs’ Association] should be understood in two ways,” said Vitale.
First it is a cynical form of corporate welfare to the defense industry. It has opened up vast new federally subsidized markets by normalizing the idea that local police departments, no matter how small, need vast arsenals of military gear to defend themselves from the exaggerated threats of hidden terrorist cells and rampaging drug gangs. Second, it is part of an ideological worldview that the threats we face as a society are best dealt with by ever more police power.”

Trump Escalates Attack on Healthcare, Women With Rebranded and Expanded Global Gag Rule

"The Global Gag Rule doesn't protect lives; it destroys them."

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By Andrea Germanos

President Donald Trump spent part of his first Monday in office following in the footsteps of other Republican presidents by reinstating the Global Gag Rule, officially known as the Mexico City Policy.

The Reagan-era rule bars U.S. aid from going to international NGOs that offer abortion services or even provide information about it as an option—even when they use non-U.S. funds to do so. It's been criticized for devastating not only reproductive healthcare services but primary healthcare services as well, as clinics, faced with budget shortfalls, are forced to cut back or shut down completely.

And it was made clear, from that January memorandum, that Trump's order would mark an expansion of the rule, as it directed the Secretary of State "to implement a plan to extend the requirements of the reinstated Memorandum to global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies." As Human Rights Watch explained in March:
Under previous Republican administrations, the restrictions in the Mexico City Policy applied specifically to U.S. family planning funds, approximately U.S.$575 million. 
Trump's policy extends restrictions to all U.S. global health assistance...
On Monday, CBN reported that "Trump is taking the pro-life policy to a whole different level," as the rule, rebranded as the "Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance" program, will affect $8.8 billion in funding.

CBN adds that the "nearly $9 billion in global health assistance funds will be appropriated to the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of Defense."

The State Department also announced Monday its plan to implement the policy, stating:
Under this expanded policy, "global health assistance" includes funding for international health programs, such as those for HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health, malaria, global health security, and family planning and reproductive health.
It adds:
All foreign NGOs will have the opportunity to receive global health assistance awards if they indicate their agreement to abide by the terms of Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance by accepting the provisions in their award.
NARAL said the announcement showed the president was "yet again throwing women under the bus."

"President Trump is treating women's lives like political bargaining chips, trading them away to shore up his flagging support," said Sasha Bruce, senior vice president of campaigns and strategy for the pro-choice organization.

"Barely more than 100 days into his presidency, this pattern of behavior is an ominous portent of things to come for women and families. A man who was best known during the campaign for disrespecting and objectifying women clearly hasn't changed his behavior despite wielding even more power," Bruce added.

According to Brian Dixon, senior vice president of Population Connection Action Fund, Trump's "dramatic expansion of the policy needlessly threatens the lives and well-being of millions," and the re-branded rule is "just more brazen gaslighting by the Trump administration."

"The Global Gag Rule doesn't protect lives; it destroys them," he continued.
"It causes health clinics to close; it causes contraceptive shortages; it significantly reduces access to critical reproductive health care; and it, not surprisingly, causes dramatic increases in unsafe abortion. Rather than recognizing the utter failure of the policy, this administration has expanded its breadth, threatening global efforts to fight malaria and Ebola and Zika and HIV. And it will stifle efforts to address the challenge that unsafe abortion poses throughout the developing world," Dixon said.

One of Trump's Top Picks for FBI Chief Pooh-Poohed the Trump-Russia Scandal

So could GOP Sen. John Cornyn effectively lead the investigation?

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President Donald Trump told reporters over the weekend that he would "make a fast decision" on his nomination to replace James Comey, the FBI director he fired in part due to, in Trump's words, the "Russia thing." Trump's sudden and brazen decision to remove Comey amidst the ongoing FBI investigation into possible ties between Trump associates and the Russian government earned him a week's worth criticism — even from a few Republicans. But at least one of the possible nominees Trump is considering would pose a significant problem. If picked to be FBI director, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) would manage an investigation that he has shown very little interest in seeing pursued.
The idea of nominating a Republican politician to the post has been criticized by members of both major parties. "John Cornyn under normal circumstances would be a superb choice to be FBI director," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said this weekend on Meet the Press. "But these are not normal circumstances." Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the senior Democrat in the US Senate, echoed Graham's concerns about Cornyn. "First, the nominee should be not a partisan politician, not part of either party. This demands a serious, down-the-middle investigation," Schumer said.
Cornyn does have some of the typical resume lines for an FBI director. Before he was elected to the US Senate in 2002, Cornyn served as a district judge in Texas, a judge on the Texas Supreme Court, and as the state's attorney general. But like many of his GOP colleagues in the Senate, Cornyn has been less than enthusiastic about the FBI's investigation into the president's ties to Russia. As a member of the Senate judiciary committee, Cornyn has said that the Russia affair should be investigated, but he has generally focused more on intelligence leaks and the issue of "unmasking"—the process of revealing the identity of an American incidentally caught up in US surveillance of foreign targets—that has been used by Republicans to distract from Moscow's meddling and to support Trump's unfounded claim that former President Barack Obama spied on him.
During a May 8 committee hearing on Russian interference during the election—where witnesses John Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, and Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, talked extensively about the Russian intervention and the national security threat posed by Michael Flynn during his short stint as Trump's national security adviser—Cornyn used his time to slam Susan Rice, Obama's national security adviser, for not appearing before the committee, to decry the supposed "unmasking" of Flynn, and to press Yates on why she had refused to defend Trump's Muslim ban in court. He did not address the main issue at hand: Vladimir Putin's effort to undermine an American election.
Two days later, after Trump had fired Comey, Cornyn told reporters that it was a "phony narrative" that Trump had fired the FBI director in response to the Russia investigation. A day later, Trump, in an interview with NBC News' Lester Holt, did say that the Russia investigation was part of his motivation for booting Comey.
Cornyn hasn't always shown the same reticence to dive into politically sensitive investigations. In September 2015, he asked then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch to appoint a special prosecutor in the Hillary Clinton email investigation. At that time, Cornyn argued that the political appointees in Obama's Justice Department weren't capable of mounting an independent investigation. But these days, Cornyn resistscalls for a special prosecutor in the Russia scandal. Cornyn's office did not respond to a request for comment.
In December, Cornyn downplayed the Russia matter on Twitter:
All this "news" of Russian hacking: it has been going on for years. Serious, but hardly news

"We've got a chance to reset here as a nation," Graham said over the weekend. "The president has a chance to clean up the mess that he mostly created. He really, I think, did his staff a disservice by changing the explanation. So I would encourage the president to pick somebody we can all rally around, including those who work in the FBI."

There Are 21 Million Victims of Human Trafficking Right Now: Coming to Grips and Trying to Solve Mass Human Suffering

Panel at Columbia explores the atrocities of human trafficking.

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By Ilana Novick

On May 10th, a panel convened by David Phillips at the Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Program on Peace-building and Rights,addressed the outrage that there are almost 21 million victims of human trafficking around the world, according to a 2016 report from the International Labour Organization. 
The panel, co-sponsored by Elizabeth Salett, Director of Human Trafficking Search, ( was organized "to raise awareness about the interconnection between human trafficking and armed conflict and the many forms it takes – whether it is through child recruitment, sex slavery, organ trafficking, forced labor or forced military service." Salett told AlterNet via email, "It was also to learn about the recent work of the UN Security Council and its efforts to the strengthen the international response to addressing human trafficking."
Lucy Usoyan, President of the Ezidi Relief Fund spoke first, explaining the plight of Ezidi women in Iraq and Syria under ISIS, how they are sold on the black market to ISIS soldiers and kept as sexual slaves and domestic servants for months, sometimes years. In Iraq and Syria alone, there are at least 3,000 Ezidi (an ethnically and religious Kurdish minority) women and girls enduring forced labor and sexual slavery at the hands of ISIS, who believe their atrocities are "a holy condition" as Usoyan explained. 
Compounding the situation, even their liberation from ISIS doesn't guarantee a smooth transition home. In some cases, Usoyan noted, the women are rejected by their communities, treated as if their captivity and ISIS's cruelty were their ownfault. This presents an additional challenge for the institutions, like the U.N. and foreign governments who assist these women; freedom from ISIS does not necessarily mean freedom from persecution. 
The next speaker, Tom Wheeler, Senior Policy Advisor, Development and Human Rights, United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations,  exlained the opportunities and challenges said institutions have to fight human trafficking in all its forms. He discussed how the issue is "a high priority" for the current British Prime Minister, Theresa May.
He pointed to the Modern Slavery Act of 2015, which consolidates previous laws related to slavery, and according to Wheeler, provides more protections for women performing any kind of labor against their will. It also provides more stringent requirements for any business worth over £36 million (about $50 million in US dollars), to prove that they are preventing domestic slavery in their supply chain.
For UK-based companies, human trafficking is a problem in corporate warehouses, where workers are often paying off debts to human smugglers that brought them to the country. It's also a problem in countries where the companies aren't based, but get their source materials from, for example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where workers are forced to dig for minerals commonly found in our cell phones, overseen by various groups involved in local armed conflicts.
When the state is weak on enforcing anti-slavery laws, Wheeler believes it's up to businesses to recognize whether they are unwittingly participating in these conflicts by using forced labor.
The next speaker, James Cockayne, Head of Office at United Nations University elaborated on the role the United Nations can play in this issue. He noted that there are multiple policies and programs that touch on parts of the issue: armed conflicts, peacebuilding, labor, and migration but no one umbrella framework focuses on how they relate to each other in contributing to human trafficking. Siloing and fragmentation among departments, both UN speakers noted, is a key challenge; more coordination and communication between departments working on the programs and policies addressing human trafficking is crucial. 
Of course, these programs and policies are also only as good as the people enforcing them. On the ground peacekeepers and relief workers in conflict zones need to be trained to look for signs of trafficking. During a question and answer session, one attendee mentioned that perhaps doctors too need to be trained to spot these signs, as they may be the first sources of aid that victims see. 
Cockayne continued, this push must be done with political will, not only from the U.N., but from governments around the world. Cockayne believes that "we can't deal [with human trafficking] without political will because the people involved are the least politically powerful." Even on a micro level, trafficking victims are least likely to call the police, for fear of retaliation from their captors or even that their immigration status may be found out. 
There are a few positive signs for institutions addressing the issue. In December 2016, the Security Council adopted its first anti-human trafficking resolution, after many years of assuming it was a decision for a country's own criminal courts to solve, even if countries like Iraq and Syria that don't have the infrastructure to do so.
The resolution asks the Secretary General to produce recommendations and report on progress in a year. Cockayne cautioned that the UN can't be the only actor involved: the body can "parse resolutions, have great debates," but getting these debates to translate into concrete action, "will require a whole other push." In addition to Theresa May's committment, Cockayne sees some promise in Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, who has said that his fight against human trafficking would be a core part of his government legacy, a sign, according to the UN staffers, that fighting human trafficking is a bipartisan issue.  
During the closing remarks, Cockayne asked Usoyan whether the UN staff on the ground in Syria and Iraq were "assisting correctly." Usoyan answered that it depended on the area. In "Northern Syria sure there's a U.N. office, but it's been closed for a year." In Sinjyar, there are still 500 families living in tents and the U.N., she said, has refused to supply vaccines to Northern Syria. Cockayne promised a follow-up. 
Perhaps more than the usual meeting locations, a classroom in Columbia University provided space for true candor and communication.