The Immigration Crisis and Human Trafficking

Who doesn’t believe that some of the unaccompanied alien children flooding across our border are victims of human trafficking?  The current situation provides a great cover for it.

On June 20, 2014, the U.S. State Department released the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report).  The report, discussing human trafficking around the globe, is even more interesting this year in light of the ongoing immigration debacle on the United States’ southern border.

In the TIP Report section detailing the state of affairs in the U.S., it says, “The United States is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children – both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals – subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, including domestic servitude.”  The paragraph concludes, “The top countries of origin of federally identified victims in fiscal year (FY) 2013 were the United States, Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand, Honduras, Guatemala, India, and El Salvador.”

According to ABC News, most of the unaccompanied minors flooding across the U.S. border are from three of these countries.  “Approximately 52,000 unaccompanied children, largely from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, have been taken into custody near America’s southern border between Oct. 1 and June 15, a 92 percent increase compared to the same time last year.”  Oddly enough, ABC News cites information coming from a “high-ranking Democratic senator” saying 378 of these unaccompanied children were under the age of two, and of those, 95 were under the age of one.  Since these children cannot get here on their own, someone must have “accompanied” them.

Could these infants have been trafficked for sale in the illegal adoption market?  In Guatemala in 2013, Erick Cardenas, the country’s child prosecutor, confirmed that there were 22 cases of stolen babies under investigation that he believes are linked to illegal adoptions.  The United Nations special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography, Dr. Najat Maalla M’jid, believes that child exploitation, illegal adoptions, and organ trafficking of Honduran children are increasing.  Could some of these 52,000 children have been trafficked into the U.S. for sex, or for child pornography, or to be killed for their organs?

Could the older children be vulnerable to human trafficking?  The answer is “yes.”  The first place they could become victims is on the journey to get to the U.S. border.  How many of the girls, and frankly boys, trying to get here were sold into prostitution before they even got to the U.S.?  How many more were targeted by traffickers to be sold for commercial sex or forced labor in the U.S.?

But they are protected from trafficking once they are picked up by U.S. Border Patrol, aren’t they?  Here is where the situation gets interesting and ironic.  It is possible that our laws to prevent trafficking are creating an environment ripe for human traffickers to exploit.

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 (Section 462) transferred the authority to coordinate and implement the care of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) in federal custody from the commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  In subsequent years after this transfer, the powers given to the HHS secretary to care for UACs were expanded twice.

In the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 (Section 235), the procedure to handle UACs was changed in an effort to combat child exploitation and trafficking.  Children from Mexico and Canada are interviewed and repatriated quickly if it is determined they have not been trafficked or do not face danger upon return to their countries.

However, for UACs from non-contiguous countries, the procedure is very different.  Homeland Security has 72 hours to transfer them to HHS custody, whereupon UACs “shall be promptly placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child.”  The HHS secretary is supposed to ensure that each custodian with which a child is placed has his or her identification and relationship to the child verified.  The HHS secretary is also supposed to determine that the custodian is capable of providing for the child’s physical and mental well-being.  Currently, the number of custodial situations to verify is 52,000 and counting.  How many of these “verified” custodians are working with traffickers?  How many of these children will simply walk away from their “least restrictive setting”?

In the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (Section 1261, which is an anti-trafficking provision), another layer was added to the care of UACs.  If a UAC turns 18 while in the care of HHS and is then transferred to the custody of the secretary of Homeland Security (DHS), the alien may be placed in an alternative to detention such as “with an individual or an organizational sponsor, or in a supervised group home.”  How easy would it be for traffickers to snatch this young adult from these situations and put him or her into debt bondage, forced labor, or sex trafficking?

According to the ORR, the statistics for UACs in Fiscal Years (FY) 2012 and 2013 were as follows:






















Remember the TIP Report note that said El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are three of the top countries from which federally identified victims originated?  In FY 2012, 88 percent of UACs were from those countries, and in FY 2013, the number was up to 93 percent.  UACs under the age of 14 made up 17 percent of the total in FY 2012, and that increased to 24 percent in FY 2013.

In addition, the number of UACs has skyrocketed since 2011.  In the fiscal years 2003-2011, the average number of UAC referrals to ORR was 6,775 a year.  In FY 2012 it was 13,635; in FY 2013 it was 24,688, and ORR is estimating 60,000 in FY 2014.  Some estimates say 90,000 to 150,000 UACs will enter the U.S. this year.  In January 2014, President Obama’s administration put out a request for proposal for “escort services for unaccompanied alien children,” (yes, that is the real title) seeking a contractor that could handle 65,000 UACs, which means it was not surprised by this surge; it was expecting the influx.

One of the four reasons ORR lists for the minors coming to the U.S. is that they are brought here by human trafficking rings.

Well, human trafficking rings would be stupid not to take advantage of the porous southern border in combination with laws that enable UACs to remain in the U.S. under the “least restrictive setting” necessary.  It would be very easy to get the children back once they leave the detention centers.  Human traffickers are anything but stupid.  They are ruthless predators who seek out the vulnerable and exploit every loophole and opportunity the legal system exposes.  These traffickers could be flooding and overwhelming the system so that the victims will be available again soon.  And once they are here, it will be years, if ever, before they are repatriated.

House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte claims that more than 90 percent of the UACs will not appear for their court dates; they will disappear.  Gary Mead, the former Enforcement and Removal Operations director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told the Associated Press, “They almost never go home.  It’s not a process that ultimately ends in easy resolutions or clear-cut resolutions.”

It could, however, end in the trafficking of vulnerable children.

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