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The Sad Truth About Human Trafficking:

Human trafficking is a global business generating at least $150 billion in illegal profits.  It is more profitable and generates more money than the drug trade as the same person can be sold over and over where as a drug or weapons must be purchased for each transaction. It encompasses forced labor, sex trafficking, organ trafficking and more. California is the state in which human trafficking is most prevalent. San Diego ranks 13th nationally as a hub of human trafficking.

Human trafficking has recently massively increased.  Law-enforcement agencies report that incidents have spiked in the last two years. The world's more than 280 million migrants are among the individuals most vulnerable to the ravages of human trafficking. Almost no group is more vulnerable to bad actors than recently arrived migrants and refugees. Among them are tens of thousands of children, prime targets for transnational criminal operatives. The vast majority, 72%, of those trafficked in the U.S. are immigrants. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, record numbers of unaccompanied minors have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Many traveled not with parents or family members, but with human smugglers. 


For minors, the real peril begins after entering the United States. One expert estimates 60% of the Latin American children sent across the border alone or with smugglers have been taken by the cartels. What frequently follows is horrific abuse in the form of child pornography or drug trafficking. Most instances of trafficking occur after a migrant has been relocated, when promises of a better life are shattered and many are sold as sex workers or slave laborers. 

The increased flow of unaccompanied children increased the demand for “sponsors”—i.e., people willing to house and care for the children so they can be processed out of Health and Human Services housing. To remedy the increase in numbers, the administration lowered the standards for sponsors, slashing the vetting process times to meet deadlines.  Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Bercerra has urged his department to process these children out of this program at assembly-line speed resulting in at-risk children being released to sponsors without proper vetting, exploited for illegal child labor, and put at risk for human trafficking. That means little vetting is taking place, and current measures to protect minors are insufficient. With scores of young people, many are released to unsavory circumstances. Once children leave their country of origin, they are at the mercy of their custodial guardian. Unfortunately, this is often a trafficker.  According to an HHS whistleblower, the lowered standards led to more of these children falling into the hands of cartels, pedophiles and pimps. Many were claimed by “family members” they had never met and then subjected to horrendous conditions.

To curtail human trafficking, especially of children, the previous administration allowed Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run DNA tests on immigrants claiming to be traveling in “familial units.” This program detected more than 6,000 fraudulent families. This effective protection program was ended by the current administration. In February, The New York Times reported that even though HHS checks on all minors by calling them a month after they begin living with their sponsors, data obtained by the newspaper showed that over the last two years, the agency could not reach more than 85,000 children. Overall, the agency lost immediate contact with a third of migrant children.  The ongoing crisis at the southern border has endangered the well-being of unaccompanied migrant children.


COVID policies haven’t helped matters. The State Department reports that the number of individuals at risk of trafficking grew significantly during the Covid era. The economic and social distress generated by the covid policies exacerbated trafficking risks for vulnerable and marginalized populations. These included women and children, people affected by travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders, communities in areas of food insecurity, and survivors of trafficking, as well as persons directly and indirectly affected by the disruption of economic activities and reduced livelihood options. Due to school closures, some children lacked access to education, shelter, and/or food. Survivors of trafficking faced an increased risk of potential re-victimization due to financial and emotional hardships during the crisis. A survey by the Office of Security highlights that almost 70 percent of trafficking survivors from 35 countries reported that their financial well-being was heavily impacted by COVID policies, and more than two-thirds attributed a decline in their mental health to government-imposed lockdowns. Many survivors had to close shops or leave jobs due to lockdowns and some were pressured by former traffickers when other employment options dried up. Additionally, covid policies, such as stay-at-home orders and travel limitations, increased rates of violence and substance abuse, both of which put individuals at a higher risk of human traffickers exploiting them. Substantial changes in financial situations, such as the reduction of wages and work hours, closure of workplaces, rising unemployment, and reduced remittances, coupled with the rise in costs of living and disruptions to social safety networks, created newly precarious situations for those not previously vulnerable and even more precarious situations for those who were already at risk of exploitation. Traffickers targeted families experiencing financial difficulties and offered false promises and fraudulent job offers to recruit their children, while other families exploited or sold their children to traffickers to financially support themselves.


With the current emphasis on clean energy, another route for exploitation is in full force. Forced labor in supply chains is a pervasive and pernicious element of the global marketplace affecting individuals, businesses, and governments across a variety of industries and regions of the world. Government mandated renewable energy business has led to the emergence of a new global energy economy, increased demand for key mineral inputs, and expanded mining and extraction activities where forced labor is commonplace. 

Silicon metal for solar photovoltaic (PV) modules and cobalt for electric vehicle (EV) batteries are examples of technologies that are often sourced from areas with long and complicated histories of human rights abuses, including forced labor and forced child labor. Credible evidence indicates that manufacturers of silicon metal used by the solar supply chain and other sectors directly engage in state-sponsored forced labor programs. Artisanal and small-scale mining of cobalt has been associated with forced child labor and other abuses. These examples highlight a new incentive for continued forced child labor.

It is not a problem without solutions, however. The U.S. must secure and maintain its borders. Traffickers delight in and depend upon open and chaotic national borders to exploit migrants. The migrant is not the "bad guy" in this scenario. Rather, migrants are potential victims and unwilling tools of the cartels and traffickers who enrich themselves at the expense of the vulnerable. We must stop fueling the trafficking tragedy and safeguard the border.

We all have a role to play in identifying and combating human trafficking and the exploitation of migrants. It starts with recognizing the threat in our own communities. Trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world with at least 14.5 million victims. It behooves us to educate our children, educators, law enforcement personnel, healthcare workers, and faith communities to recognize the signs of exploitation and grooming of minors in our midst.

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