Human trafficking is not a topic at Summit of the Americas

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The Summit of Americas is ironically gaining more coverage about who didn’t show than who did. As Biden and other heads of state reel in on the importance of democracy and regional alignment, the most important voices — marginalized communities vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation—have been barred from the table. And we will feel the consequences for years to come. 

With an unprecedented influx of mass migration across the region, the Americas have a shared benefit of implementing a humane immigration policy framework, and addressing the inhumane conditions at the border that foster trafficking. Operation Lost Souls is an example of what happens when our only solution to the exploitation of vulnerable immigrant communities is law enforcement. Lives are lost, people are trafficked, and the root causes of poverty continue to be exacerbated. Can we really defend the quality of life across the region if exploited children at the borders is status quo?

The Summit of the Americas presented a historic opportunity to resolve how we collectively support scores of migrants across the region while addressing the root causes of exploitation. Unstable governments, colonial American influence, relentless intergenerational poverty, systemic discrimination against women and indigenous communities, and high unemployment rates cause people to flee unpredictably, adding pressure to an already unintegrated and weak immigration system. All nations, immigration experts, human rights organizations, anti-trafficking advocates, and social justice organizers should have had a seat at the table to guide multi-prong solutions to an ongoing regional crisis. Instead, few were invited, few were heard, and few will benefit.

An intersectional approach to preventing human trafficking could have been the issue that brought a variety of public and private stakeholders together. Not only is it a shared problem across the Americas, but an intersectional lens to preventing trafficking could have been a shared solution to addressing the overarching themes of the Summit: resiliency, sustainability, and equity. A report by the Department of State shows how countries throughout the Americas have significant trafficking issues. The recent Supreme Court case Biden v. Texas, underscores the imperative need for the Summit to directly address these issues. And yet, the Summit still shadowboxed the issue of human trafficking. 

Trafficking is a byproduct and result of overlapping societal issues that derive from poverty, systemic marginalization, and poor intergovernmental strategies that fail to provide international safety nets for the most vulnerable communities. Trafficking is a complex issue that finds resolve through climate justice, immigrant justice, economic justice, racial justice, and governmental accountability. When we collectively examine the root causes of trafficking through an intersectional lens, we are better equipped to protect vulnerable populations across the region. And what better place to dissect this regional issue than the Summit of the Americas?

Leaders of the Summit must be held accountable for not just overlooking survivors of human trafficking at this moment, but for failing to address how the economic, political, and social systems of their respective countries have enabled human trafficking across the Americas. Survivors deserve a seat at the head of the table. 

Heads of government don’t always get it right. Legal and policy experts, organizers, and direct-service-providers are the most equipped to provide structure and feedback to regional issues that require collective cooperation for the betterment of all nations in the Americas. 

How will we ever solve our regional issues if only a select few are invited to the party?

Joseph Villela is State Policy Director at Sunita Jain Anti-Trafficking Initiative at Loyola Law School.

Tags human trafficking Migration Summit of the Americas

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