Trump’s anti-trafficking rhetoric is a sham excuse for border wall and inhumane policies
Although President Trump finally reached a deal to reopen the government for three weeks, we must not lose sight of the fact that he continues to stand by misguided justifications for the longest shutdown in our country’s history and his inhumane policy priorities are at the center of the border wall debate.
Trump has tried to justify the government shutdown in part by claiming it is the only way to protect the United States from human trafficking.
That is absolutely false.
The shutdown, along with the president’s inhumane immigration policies and horrific family separations and child detention, actually embolden, enrich and protect traffickers. At the same time, victims are further trapped by his government-sanctioned threats and left without access to basic services they need to survive.
In recent budget proposals, the administration included a provision — veiled in deliberately vague language – that would have eliminated access to asylum for most minor trafficking victims from Central America, especially those children trafficked by gangs or fleeing forced gang involvement.
The reality is that most foreign nationals who are trafficked into the U.S. come legally, on a visa orchestrated by the trafficker. They are not kidnapped and duct taped as absurdly claimed by the president. Rather, they are lured by promises of well-paid jobs, safe working conditions, or love and protection. They cross with visas but find themselves saddled with debt, stripped of their papers, subjected to threats and forced into servitude.
A wall will do nothing to prevent these legal entries. Nor will it prevent the forced labor and sex trafficking that follow. Just look at the sex trafficking case recently prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota. A Thai criminal gang trafficked hundreds of women into the United States on visas obtained by their traffickers.
It is true that unaccompanied minors who cross the border are vulnerable to traffickers, and that traffickers have abused the system that places minors with sponsors. However, building a wall will not protect those children, and, in fact, Trump’s own policies and actions are further endangering them. Turning minors away at the border, or denying them asylum because their hometown in under gang control, makes them less safe and heightens the risk that they will abused or exploited in another country.
Nothing could be more cruel or fly more in the face of American values.
Yet, another cruel policy from the Department of Homeland Security threatens trafficking victims with deportation if they are so bold as to come out of the shadows, report the crime to law enforcement, and seek immigration protection. Protections that Congress created in 2000 specifically to encourage survivors to work with law enforcement and protect them from retaliation by their traffickers. As a result, attorneys across the country report that trafficking survivors are now more fearful of working with law enforcement, courts, or any other government agency — and are more likely to remain in the trafficking situation.
It is clear that Trump has no real interest in fighting human trafficking — a fight that has long enjoyed bipartisan support. For years and across presidencies, our leaders have upheld the spirit of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which requires that unaccompanied minors coming across our border should receive protection and support. This administration, however, is investing in incarceration and abuse — wasting money on tent cities when they should invest in follow-up visits to ensure these children are safe.
Across the board, the nation’s anti-trafficking advocates and service providers fighting to prevent trafficking, prosecute traffickers, and seek justice for survivors, reject the Trump administration’s cynical manipulation of human trafficking as a political pawn to justify his cruel attacks on immigrants and trafficking survivors. When the administration’s actions terrorize victims with threats of deportation that make them less likely to report crimes, his claims of concern simply cannot stand.
With so many false claims and underhanded, destructive maneuvering, it seems the best way to protect the United States from human trafficking is to put a stop to Trump’s atrocious policies. As debate continues to fund the government for a longer duration, I hope Congress and the Trump administration’s future negotiations will prioritize protecting all trafficking victims and the TVPA.
Jean Bruggeman is the executive director of Freedom Network USA, a national alliance of advocates working with human trafficking survivors to ensure access to justice, safety and opportunity.