Why I’m passionate about this topic:
I have always been invested in and interested in immigration policy. In my free time, I work with immigrants and refugees in an educational volunteer program and am interested in pursuing this work further in the future. For my campaign topic, I combined an issue I was more familiar with to an issue I didn’t know much about: human trafficking. The intersections of both topics were something I had never explored, but I realized the importance of the plight of immigrant survivors and victims of human trafficking throughout my research.
What are the specifics of this issue?
Human trafficking is a devastating worldwide epidemic. The term encapsulates the 30 million men, women, and children being recruited, transported, and harbored across cities, countries, or nations to be exploited into prostitution, forced labor, and other forms of slavery. The United States accounts for around 600,000 of those victims, many of whom are immigrants.
It is estimated that 17,000 to 19,000 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year. Although these immigrants whom are involved in human trafficking come from all over the world, the majority of the immigrant population are Hispanic. Countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico are at the forefront of the trafficked immigrant population. A significantly relevant policy issue in the US currently is the immigration “crisis” occurring at the Mexican-American border, of which President Trump expresses concern over the number of undocumented immigrants who reside in the country. He speaks about them like we need to be protected from them, when in reality, they need protection from us.
Studies show that the newly immigrant population in itself, both documented and undocumented, is more vulnerable to the deceptive tactics of traffickers because of their general lower levels of education, inability to speak English, and lack of familiarity with U.S. employment protections. Further, they are vulnerable because they often work in jobs that aren’t in public view and are unregulated by the government.
Human traffickers lure immigrants to the US in a variety of ways, but many victims are lured into the system with the promise of a stable education, a loving relationship, or a legitimate job: Some documented instances include September 2014, where Charles Marquez was sentenced to life in federal prison for recruiting women in Mexico by placing an advertisement offering jobs in the US. Once recruited, he harbored them in motels and forced them into prostitution. Other instances include January 2015, where three brothers, Jorge, Ricardo and Leonel Estrada-Tepal pled guilty to sex trafficking charges. The Mexican nationals illegally transported females from Mexico to the United States and forced them to work as prostitutes in various cities. Although both men faced federal consequences, this does not take away the prevalence of the issue.
The dangerous situations these victims are in only intensify with the added pressure of avoiding deportation. Many of the immigrant trafficking population is undocumented, which makes it easier for traffickers to take advantage of them. Current policies in place by the US government prohibit many immigrants from gaining protection by the government, which contradicts their main purpose. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 allows immigrant survivors of trafficking to apply for special forms of immigration protection, known as T visas. However, the path to immigration status is long and stressful, for out of 5,000 available visas, only 672 T visas were issued in 2017. It can take up to a year or more for the visa to be granted, and during this time, most survivors have no protection from deportation and no ability to work lawfully. In fact, just last year, according to The Hill, USCIS issued a new policy specifying that any survivor who applies for T visas — and is denied — will be placed in deportation proceedings. These statistics are the types of concerns many victims have, and thus the cycle continues. These victims are alone and scared, as administration’s emphasis on protecting survivors of trafficking is overshadowed by targeting of undocumented immigrants, including trafficking survivors, which in turn has provoked fear in immigrant communities and makes survivors less trustful of law enforcement.
How we can fix this:
One of the most important steps we can make as a community is to familiarize ourselves with current immigration policy and look for the signs of human trafficking around us. Government agencies and non profits such as Polaris have ways to identify signs of which I have reposted here from the Polaris website: (polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/recognize-signs)
If someone. . .
- is not free to leave or come and go at will
- Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
- Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
- Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
- Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
- Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where they are staying/address
- Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
- Appear to have lost sense of time
- Shares scripted, confusing, or inconsistent stories
US legislators must also close the loopholes in immigration laws, for example the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which human traffickers exploit by posing as sponsors and forcing immigrants into prostitution or hard labor. We need to recognize and acknowledge the loopholes and provide solutions. Below is a padlet I created open to everyone to share their thoughts, calls to action, policy ideas, etc. Please feel free to use and comment at least one thing on the padlet as you continue exploring my campaign.
My Call to Action…
For my call to action, I am signing the United Way’s petition in calling on President Trump to commit two cents for every dollar in profits traffickers make to fight human trafficking and joining their mission to end human trafficking. I encourage everyone to do the same on this link here: https://generationfreedom-unway.bsd.net/page/s/sign-the-petition
In addition to this, I am reaching out to the Lily Pad Haven which is a housing organization for survivors of Human Trafficking and the Polaris Project on additional ways I can increase the awareness of the vulnerability of immigrants in this situation.
…and Two Ways You Can Do Your Part:
1) Educate yourself on signs of human trafficking that I listed above. You could be the one to prevent one less crime!
2) Sign United Way’s Petition: https://generationfreedom-unway.bsd.net/page/s/sign-the-petition
Wood, Stephen. “The Intersection of Human Trafficking and Immigration.” Bill of Health, 27 June 2018, blog.petrieflom.law.harvard.edu/2018/06/27/the-intersection-of-human-trafficking-and-immigration/.
“Immigration Basics: Human Trafficking.” Federation for American Immigration Reform, fairus.org/issue/illegal-immigration/immigration-basics-human-trafficking.
“Leader of Human Trafficking Organization Sentenced to Over 15 Years for Exploiting Guatemalan Migrants at Ohio Egg Farms.” The United States Department of Justice, 27 June 2016, Leader of Human Trafficking Organization Sentenced to Over 15 Years for Exploiting Guatemalan Migrants at Ohio Egg Farms.
Dahlstrom, Julie. “Trump’s Harsh Immigration Policies Are a Gift for Human Traffickers.” TheHill, 13 July 2018, thehill.com/opinion/civil-rights/396781-trumps-harsh-immigration-policies-are-a-gift-for-human-traffickers.
“Human Trafficking: Modern Enslavement of Immigrant Women in the United States.” American Civil Liberties Union, www.aclu.org/other/human-trafficking-modern-enslavement-immigrant-women-united-states.
“Human Trafficking and Smuggling.” ICE, www.ice.gov/factsheets/human-trafficking.
“Recognize the Signs.” Polaris, 7 Nov. 2018, polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/recognize-signs