Trump’s harsh immigration policies are a gift for human traffickers

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In a dramatically ironic summer marked by vivid scenes of family separation and heart-wrenching pleas from immigrant parents, Ivanka Trump and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, stood smiling before a packed pressroom on June 28th to release the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Trump and Pompeo’s lavish display stood in stark contrast to the administration’s harsh policies targeting undocumented immigrants — some of whom are survivors of trafficking and many of whom (especially children) are extremely vulnerable to human trafficking.

{mosads}The contradictions were palpable, as the Trafficking in Persons Report directly references the vulnerability of migrants and children to trafficking without mention of recent U.S. policies that increased family separation and detention.


This dissonance is not new, although recent events have been particularly egregious. Since his inauguration, President Trump has espoused strikingly different — and dramatically inconsistent — approaches to immigration and human trafficking. In the context of immigration, he has labeled entire immigrant communities as “criminals, “rapists,” and “traffickers,” while mobilizing immigration enforcement efforts to root them out and deport them with no concern for due process.

On the other hand, the Trump administration has repeatedly insisted that ending human trafficking is a major foreign policy priority. Indeed, in April 2018,  Trump set off much debate by saying that “[t]rafficking is probably worse today than at any time in our history” — a fact unsupported by existing anti-trafficking data. In a further flourish that now appears, at best, profoundly cynical, he told trafficking survivors, “[y]ou are not alone.”

And yet, immigrant survivors in the United States have never felt so alone. Despite the administration’s occasional rhetoric about protecting survivors of trafficking, the brutal fact is that indiscriminate targeting of undocumented immigrants, including trafficking survivors, has sown chaos and fear in immigrant communities. This makes survivors much less likely to cooperate with law enforcement, and more likely to be targeted as victims.

Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, immigrant survivors of trafficking may qualify for special forms of immigration protection, known as T visas (for trafficking survivors) or U visas (for survivors of certain crimes, including trafficking).

However, the path to immigration status is far from immediate or easy. Of 5,000 available visas, only 672 T visas were issued in fiscal year 2017. It often takes 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, on June 28, 2018, USCIS issued a new policy memorandum specifying that any survivor who applies for T visas — and is denied — will be placed in deportation proceedings. This is a dramatic shift in USCIS policy, which for many years, has refused to place T visa applicants in deportation proceedings for fear that it would have a dramatic chilling effect on the filing of applications from immigrant survivors.

In addition, to be eligible for the T visa, survivors generally must cooperate with law enforcement, which has been cruelly complicated by the increasingly menacing immigration enforcement machinery humming in the background.

Despite laudable efforts by some law enforcement officials, cooperation is exceptionally challenging these days, and ICE officials have done little to reassure fearful survivors. In 2017, ICE Acting Chief Thomas Homan was asked in a press conference, “You are not going to take advantage of the immigrant communities who are survivors, right?” and he merely replied, “Is there a population of illegal aliens that are off the table? I am not saying that.”

Indeed, according to President Trump’s Executive Order in January 2017 that expanded the priorities for deportation, anyone who is undocumented is an enforcement priority — apparently including survivors of trafficking and other crimes.

Indeed, in the past year, ICE has strenuously bolstered cooperation with local and state law enforcement, blurring the lines between criminal and immigration enforcement. Reports of ICE agents showing up at local courthouses — and even arresting survivors seeking restraining orders — have sparked considerable fear in immigrant communities.

Add to this the impact of the “zero tolerance” policy and family separation, and these developments do not inspire immigrant survivors or their legal advocates to see police stations as beacons of hope.

Rather, they result in fewer survivors coming forward. Faced with increasing immigration enforcement and no clear guarantees of protection, many survivors will choose to stay hidden and silent. Worse still, such policies only prime the pump for more victimization.

Julie Dahlstrom is the director of Boston University’s Law’s Immigrants’ Rights & Human Trafficking Program and a Clinical Associate Professor at Boston University School of Law.

Tags Donald Trump Human trafficking Immigration Ivanka Trump Mike Pompeo

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