President Trump’s wall won’t stop human trafficking

When a U.S. president speaks out about modern slavery, it sends a powerful message to policymakers here and around the world that stopping this human rights crime is and should be a priority.

Or at least, that is what we expect and hope for.

Unfortunately, President Donald Trump’s most recent remarks on the topic, and other administration actions, will likely do more to empower traffickers than to protect would-be victims of this horrible crime.

Speaking recently on Long Island, President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse votes to condemn Chinese government over Hong Kong Former Vice President Walter Mondale dies at age 93 White House readies for Chauvin verdict MORE stoked nativist emotions and stirred unfounded fears when he suggested building a border wall is a solution to human trafficking. The truth is that the best hope we have of slowing this $150 billion criminal enterprise is to do a better job of making people less vulnerable to traffickers.


Sadly, the president’s divisive remarks, and the policies that underlie them, will almost certainly result in tragic consequences: more traffickers exploiting communities made more vulnerable to trafficking.

Unfortunately, many of the president’s policy and budget proposals communicate an apparent lack of understanding of human trafficking at best, or at worst a willful disregard to the women, men, and children most vulnerable to this heinous and complex crime.

Indeed, these harmful proposals affect the very populations that the annual U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report profiles as the most vulnerable in the U.S.: LGBTI individuals; foreign nationals, especially domestic workers and individuals with limited English proficiency; migrant laborers, including undocumented workers; and children, particularly those who are involved in the child welfare system, or who arrive in our country unaccompanied.

Immigrant communities in the United States, particularly migrant workers, undocumented immigrants, and immigrant victims of crime, are among the most vulnerable to human trafficking and other forms of exploitation.

Trump administration anti-immigrant rhetoric and executive orders on interior and border security enforcement are turning police into immigration agents, eroding civil rights protections, and undermining privacy protections for witnesses, victims and families.

These policies are effectively criminalizing the immigrant community — putting trafficking victims and survivors more deeply into the shadows and limiting law enforcement’s ability to investigate trafficking crimes because communities are reticent to cooperate.

Beyond inciting fear in immigrant communities, President Trump is also using his budget sword to undercut programs that protect vulnerable U.S. communities from trafficking.

Workers recruited from other countries to labor in our farm fields, or to fill seasonal jobs in landscaping, forestry, seafood processing, hospitality, construction and other industries, are particularly vulnerable to workplace abuse, exploitation, and human trafficking.

Yet, President Trump’s budget would slash Department of Labor capacity that is critical to discovering and prosecuting these crimes.

Other vulnerable communities are also facing greater risks. One in five homeless youth are victims of labor and sex trafficking, according to two recently released studies.

LGBTQ youth — too many of whom are turned away by their families – experience homelessness in disproportionately high numbers.

Despite this compelling data, this year’s Trafficking in Persons report scrubbed recommendations on the need for services to protect LGBTQ survivors from the narrative on the US.

This inexcusable omission combined with the Trump administration’s troubling track record on LGBTQ rights — the rescission of the Obama rule on transgender students’ bathroom use, the revocation of protections for preventing non-discrimination of LGBTQ individuals by federal contractors, and the president’s recent tweet supporting a ban on transgender individuals in the military —  send disturbing signals of the administration’s lack of concern for these young people and their vulnerability to human trafficking.

The effort to combat human trafficking has advanced, both in this country and globally, because of the widespread, bipartisan leadership of the U.S. government over the past three decades.

One pillar of U.S. leadership is foreign assistance for critical education, healthcare and other services that build a safety net for vulnerable communities. President Trump’s massive foreign aid cuts, if adopted, will devastate the assistance that ensures children around the world are less likely to become prey to traffickers.

The Trump administration’s harmful actions and rhetoric should be a call to Congress to ensure that the United States’ leadership role in fighting this crime at home and abroad is preserved and strengthened.

Congress should reject proposals in the president’s budget that undercut trafficking prevention. This means rejecting the proposed zeroing out of the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, and instead deepening its commitment to this agency’s critical work to combat child labor and its proven strength at ensuring a fair playing field for all workers.

Congress must also reject President Trump’s 30 percent cut to the State Department budget, and support State to continue leading on trafficking and human rights.

Across the board, Congress must also reject cuts to programs that provide safety nets protecting men, women and children, in the United States and abroad, who are most vulnerable to trafficking.

Last month, the House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation to reauthorize the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 2200) preserves and strengthens domestic and international programs and policies that help protect victims, provide tools to prosecutors, and prevent this horrendous crime. The Senate should now follow suit so Congress can enact a strong, bipartisan reauthorization of the TVPA.

Melysa Sperber is the director of policy and government relations at Humanity United Action, a human rights advocacy organization.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.