Most readers are already knowledgeable about the facts of the illegal immigration problem in the United States, but fewer are likely familiar with the closely related issue of human trafficking. Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery which includes the illegal smuggling, transportation, and trading of people, as well as forced labor or sexual exploitation. On the surface, many imagine the victims of human trafficking as domestically kidnapped women forced into prostitution, but the data shows that human trafficking more frequently affects illegal immigrants.
This article aims to explain the interconnected relationship between illegal immigration and the human trafficking industry. To clarify, my goal is not to inspire sympathy for illegal immigrants, but rather to illustrate the necessity of border security in curbing human trafficking. Understanding this connection will allow you to skillfully debate immigration with shitlibs by appealing to their emotions, rather than with facts (which they are likely to dismiss).
Immigration and Trafficking
Immigration and human trafficking are very closely related. Despite their closely knit relationship, few make the connection. Lately, the global industry of illegal border crossing has grown wildly out of control, attracting all sorts of criminal enterprises: pimps, drug cartels, corrupt governments, and even terrorists.
Allow me to break it down in simple economic terms: where there is a market demand for illegal immigration, there will inevitably be a black market solution to facilitate illegal border crossings. Many immigrants want to come into the United States illegally and there is no shortage of human traffickers willing to get them across the border for the right price. The consequence is that many immigrants find themselves in debt bondage to smugglers.
Some fall victim to a bait-and-switch, being promised one job by the trafficker, only to be given a far worse job when they finally arrive in the country. The lucky ones are forced into menial labor for little or nothing, living in horrible conditions. Those who aren’t so lucky may find themselves coerced into prostitution and kept in line through forced drug addiction. Some just end up missing or dead.
Human trafficking is believed to be among the fastest growing activities of transnational crime organizations. According to the Global Slavery Index, there were approximately 40.3 million people enslaved in 2016, 71% of which were female. As of 2005, it is believed that 350,000 illegal aliens are smuggled into the United States from Mexico each year; across Europe, that number could be as high as 800,000 annually.
Due to the nature of the crime, it is difficult to determine exactly how much the human trafficking industry is worth. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that the global human trafficking industry generates $32 billion annually, with half ($15.5 billion) of that being made in industrialized countries and one third ($9.7 billion) made in Asia. However, in 2014, the ILO estimated that forced labor alone generates around $150 billion annually.
While the United States is among one of the worldwide leaders in action against modern slavery, our economy invests $144 billion annually in products at risk of forced labor – far more than any other developed country in the world. On the other hand, Mexico is listed as one of the only nations failing to take any action against modern slavery. Earlier in 2018, the State Department released a report identifying Belarus, Russia, Iran, and Turkmenistan as the worst countries in terms of protection against human trafficking and forced labor. According to a Protection Project report, Brazil and Thailand are among the worst countries in the world in regard to their record of child sex trafficking.
Research also suggests that human trafficking is at its highest volume in areas near international travel hubs with large immigrant populations, such as California and Texas. According to the U.S. Justice Department, it is estimated that anywhere from 14,500 to 17,500 people are illegally trafficked into the country every year, but the Global Slavery Index puts that number at 57,700 when accounting for both U.S. citizens and immigrants. Unfortunately, a concrete number for that metric is unclear since obviously illegal immigrants avoid documentation.
In 2011, the Justice Department published a report which included the following findings
– Between 2008 and 2010, Federal anti-trafficking task forces opened 2,515 cases of suspected human trafficking.
– A stunning 82% of suspected incidents were classified specifically as sex trafficking and almost half of these involved victims under the age of 18.
– About 10% of the incidents were classified as labor trafficking.
– In confirmed sex trafficking incidents, 83% of the victims were identified as U.S. citizens, whereas labor trafficking victims were almost entirely illegal or legal immigrants (67% and 28% respectively).
– Finally, 25% of victims were granted a “T visa”, a special work visa that allows them to stay in the country on the condition they cooperate with law enforcement and testify against suspected human traffickers.
As shocking as these statistics are, the report acknowledges the likelihood that the data is incomplete due to the unscrupulous nature of human trafficking cases.
Supplementary data can be obtained from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) records. In 2009 alone, ICE opened 566 cases, leading to 388 criminal arrests (more than double the arrests made the previous year), resulting in 148 indictments and 165 convictions. Meanwhile, between 2001 and 2007, the Justice Department prosecuted 360 defendants in human trafficking cases, resulting in 238 convictions.
Where Are They From?
According to a 2011 State Department report, most human trafficking victims are from the Philippines, Thailand, India, Mexico, Haiti (#ClintonFoundation), Honduras, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic. This study also found that a higher number of cases were found in high population international travel hubs with a high volume of immigrants, such as California, New York, Texas, and Florida.
According to data from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, about 979,000 of reported human trafficking cases are from California, making it the most affected area in the country. However, Atlanta, Georgia is regarded as the United States capital of human trafficking, due to its large airport; a 2014 study by the Urban Institute showed that traffickers in Atlanta grossed over $32,000 in a single week. Southern Florida is also considered a hotbed of human trafficking, specifically Miami Beach, where authorities arrested 36 suspected traffickers in 2017 alone.
Hotline statistics from the Polaris Project suggest that people from Latin America make up one-third of human trafficking victims in the United States, with most coming from Mexico, Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic. Unsurprisingly, it is estimated that nearly 29% of these victims are illegally smuggled into the country across the southern border with Mexico; however, it is also believed that a majority of these victims enter the United States on work visas.
According to the Polaris Project, Central American or Mexican males with seasonal H-2A visas comprise most agricultural labor trafficking. Although the visa program requires employers to provide workers with suitable housing, they frequently live in squalor and are denied necessities such as beds and indoor toilets. In the construction industry, most trafficking victims are Mexican or Central American men, who either have an H-2B visa or are in the country illegally. This type of abuse emphasizes the need for reform of our work visa programs, as well as further oversight and regulation.
Research conducted by the University of California at Berkeley discovered that roughly 46% of people enslaved in the United States are forced into prostitution. From January 2007 to September 2008, of the 1,229 cases of alleged human trafficking nationwide, nearly 83% were sex trafficking cases. Findings by the State Department in 2009 suggest that sex trafficking is closely tied with illegal immigrant smuggling operations headed by Mexican, Eastern European, and Asian crime organizations.
In the realm of sex trafficking, the Polaris Project reports that most victims – over half of whom are minors – are from Mexico, Central America, or the Caribbean, with only 11% coming from the United States. A massive 96% of victims are females from Mexico or Central America, 63% of whom are minors.
The ILO claims that 4.5 million people worldwide are affected by sex trafficking. Statistics gathered by the International Organization for Migration suggest that of the trafficking victims it assisted in 2011, 35% were minors. In 2008, the State Department estimated that 2 million children are exploited by the global commercial sex trade.
Sex trafficking heavily relies on deception, with victims usually being promised work in a service industry, only to have their passport and identification confiscated and wind up instead locked in a brothel, where they are forced to undertake sex work to earn their freedom. Often, drug addiction is used to manipulate the victims. To make matters worse, the victims typically receive a meager fraction of the money they earn, if any at all. This massive global industry is predicted to gross around $32 billion annually.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that between 240,000 and 325,000 children are at risk for sexual exploitation every year. Additionally, a 2001 study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work predicated that up to 300,000 American youths may be at risk of commercial sexual exploitation at any given time. Back in 2000, the State Department calculated that there are approximately 244,000 American children at risk for sex trafficking every year.
Those most vulnerable are homeless and runaway children. In 2009, the National Runaway Switchboard claimed that one-third of American runaway youths will be lured into prostitution within just 48 hours on the streets. In 2013, there were over 10,000 reports of child sex trafficking documented by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), which they claim represents only a “tiny percentage” of the total number. The NCMEC puts much of the blame on websites such as the now defunct Backpage.com. Although Backpage.com sends the NCMEC an average of 300 suspicious ads every month, the NCMEC maintains that this number is “inadequate” based on their data. Online classifieds sites are attributed to increasing profit margins and diminishing risks for traffickers, who often use social media to recruit potential victims.
Drug cartels, paramilitary forces, and other criminal organizations recruit girls as young as 10 to sell to sex tourists on online auctions, where prices run in the thousands of dollars. In Brazil – where it is estimated that up to 250,000 children work as prostitutes (although some sources put that number closer to 2 million) – law enforcement agencies have labelled the BR-116 highway as a hub for the child sex trade; based on the distance, it is believed that every ten miles of highway will have a child selling sex on the side of the streets over a total of at least 262 locations.
Illegal aliens have increasingly turned to smugglers known as coyotes, to lead them north through Mexico and across the southern border. In China, they are known as “snakehead” gangs. Unfortunately, there is a growing trend of coyotes coercing illegal immigrants into exploitative labor arrangements to repay the debt owed to the smugglers. As known smuggling routes become more dangerous, the costs migrants must pay has dramatically risen, leading to some coyotes selling their illegal immigrants into forced labor or prostitution to recuperate their expenses. Due to fear of deportation, abuse, and other crimes these crimes often go unreported.
In cases of unaccompanied minors, it is not uncommon for them to be forced into prostitution only for the coyote to falsely lead their families to believe they died in transit. Many actually do die in people smuggling; in 2004 there were 464 recorded deaths during attempts to cross the southern border and it is believed that every year 2,000 drown in the Mediterranean Sea attempting to be smuggled into Europe.
The smuggling industry is believed to be highly lucrative, grossing more than $5 billion annually according to experts like Douglas Massey, a sociology professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. In Mexico, border crossing fees can range from $1,500 to $2,500 and a large coyote organization can smuggle up to 500 people in a single day. Some estimate smuggling fees from Mexico can be up to $4,000, whereas trans-Pacific crossings can cost up to $75,000. As of 2003, people smuggling between Mexico and the United States garnered over $5 billion annually; similarly, people smuggling operations in the European Union yield around 4 billion euros in profit each year. Drug cartels have made sure to get their cut of the money generated by coyotes, either by extorting taxes from them or getting directly involved in the business themselves. Cartels have been known to use coyotes to smuggle drugs across the border in addition to smuggling people.
Illegal immigrants often fall prey to deceitful labor recruiters who then exploit their vulnerabilities (e.g. language barrier, illiteracy, fear of deportation, debt, and drug dependence) in order to maintain control over them. It is not uncommon for traffickers or smugglers to manipulate illegal aliens by facilitating remittances to their families back home.
A National Security Threat
Coyotes also pose a full-fledged national security threat. Border agents are on the lookout for “an ever-present threat [that] exists from the potential for terrorists to employ the same smuggling and transportation networks, infrastructure, drop houses, and other support and then use these masses of illegal aliens as ‘cover’ for a successful cross-border penetration”, as quoted from the Border Patrol’s mission statement.
Recent news has proven this threat is not as outlandish as it may seem. In early 2017, the former director of Venezuela’s immigration office alleged that during his seventeen month tenure, the failed socialist government kept money flowing in by selling at least 10,000 Venezuelan passports, visas, and other documents in cooperation with the Bolivian government to citizens of Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, and Iran.
In the past, the Venezuelan government has been accused of providing passports for members of al-Qaeda as well. Ironically, the U.S. government has been aware of Venezuelan passport fraud since 2006. The Venezuelan government’s ties to Hezbollah date back as far as the 2006 Lebanon War, when Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah thanked then-President Hugo Chavez for his support. Chavez has also been accused of allowing Hezbollah members to stay in Venezuela, as well as using his country’s Middle Eastern embassies to launder money.
The United States Treasury has also accused members of the Venezuelan government of providing funding to Hezbollah. A former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs is on record testifying that Chavez’s government provided funding to not only Hezbollah, but also Iran.
Current CIA Director Mike Pompeo has also acknowledged the Venezuelan government’s ties to Hezbollah and Iran. It is also known that the Lebanese-born former Venezuelan Vice President, Tareck El Aissami, has a long history of direct collaboration with Hezbollah, as well as drug cartels.
Interestingly enough, there is a direct correlation between human trafficking rates and globalization, as referenced in the 2010 book Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery by Harvard University lecturer and activist Siddharth Kara. The reason for this correlation is the increase in cross-border trade, coupled with a rising demand for cheap labor. Import competition in rural markets such as in Central America has also forced impoverished people to migrate to industrialized economies like the United States, in search of higher wages. This creates the ideal climate for organized criminal operations to form trafficking circles, aided by the technological advances brought about by globalization.
A 2011 paper published in Human Rights Review titled “Sex Trafficking: Trends, Challenges and Limitations of International Law” noted that since 2000, the number of sex trafficking victims has risen while the associated costs have declined: “Coupled with the fact that trafficked sex slaves are the single most profitable type of slave, costing on average $1,895 each but generating $29,210 annually, [there are] stark predictions about the likely growth in commercial sex slavery in the future.”
Researchers have closely examined what variables make Latin Americans especially vulnerable to human trafficking. While factors like poverty and violence provoke Latin Americans to emigrate to the United States, there are also motivating factors at play which are totally in our government’s control. These compelling factors, such as employment opportunities and other incentives, are something our government has the power to limit, yet still refuses to do so.
Legislation and Prevention
Human trafficking is criminalized not only under federal law, but also in over half of U.S. states. Related legal efforts focus on regulating the tourism industry, as well as international marriage brokers. Human trafficking is of course a federal crime under Title 18 of The United States Code; specifically, Section 1584 classifies forced labor and involuntary servitude as criminal offenses and Section 1581 prohibits forcing a person to work through debt servitude.
In addition to defining human trafficking as “any individual who provides or obtains labor or services for peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor,” The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) also distinguished between forced trafficking and voluntary smuggling. This law took measures to increase maximum sentences for traffickers, allocate resources for victims, and create avenues for inter-agency cooperation. However, while trafficking victims were previously regarded as criminals, this law allows victims to remain in the country on T-1 visas. The TVPA also created annual country reports on trafficking and tied foreign aid to anti-trafficking efforts. Under the section on Severe Forms of Trafficking in Persons, any minor engaged in prostitution – regardless of citizenship status – is considered a victim of human trafficking, irrespective of whether or not any migration has occurred.
Currently, the TVPA has been reauthorized three times, most recently in 2008. Among the amendments to the law, it most notably requires the federal government to terminate all contracts with contractors involved in forced labor and also extends jurisdiction to cover all foreign U.S. nationals and permanent overseas residents. Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003, the Bush Administration authorized over $200 million to combat human trafficking. However, a downside to this law is that it allows the government to help victims by stabilizing their immigration status. In a similar vein, the Department of Health and Human Services allows non-citizen victims to receive the same federally funded benefits and services as a person with refugee status.
There are also Safe Harbor laws, which protect trafficking victims from prosecution of crimes committed while under the influence of traffickers and also provide resources such as counselling and housing. Although victims are protected under federal law, they can still be prosecuted under state law; however, a federal law known as the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2013 encourages states to pass their own Safe Harbor laws.
President Trump took action by signing a bill titled “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act”, which gives federal and state prosecutors greater power to crack down on websites that host sex trafficking ads and enables victims and state attorneys general to file lawsuits against them. The bill was conceived in response to a massive child prostitution scandal involving Backpage.com.
Federal human trafficking laws are enforced by the U.S. Marshal Service, the FBI, the DEA, ICE, the Justice Department Civil Rights Division and Criminal Section, among other federal agencies.
In addition to legislative measures, the federal government has also established The National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline (1-888-373-7888), which responds to questions and tips in 170 languages and distributes materials in 20 languages.
Beyond government, the following national opposition organizations have been established to prevent human trafficking and offer help to victims:
– Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women: lobbies for anti-trafficking policies.
– Coalition Against Trafficking in Women: lobbies for anti-trafficking policies.
– The Trafficking Education Network: aims to better equip people to respond to human trafficking crises by providing educating and training.
– Worthwhile Wear: an international organization that helps victims escape prostitution or human trafficking and provides survivors with vocational training and employment. Also operates a U.S. program called The Well, which offers up to 2 years of housing, restorative services, and employment to adult female survivors of human trafficking.
Human trafficking and illegal immigration are intertwined so as to be nearly synonymous. If you’re in favor of open borders, you simply cannot claim to be against human trafficking. The best way to prevent human trafficking is to build the wall, among other border security measures.