Unaccompanied Minor Debate Ignores International Trafficking Issues

The debate over the increase in unaccompanied minors coming across the border has been largely focused on an argument of whether the President’s past policies have attracted these children to come from the three countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala or whether changes made to the TVPA in 2008 have resulted in the increases migration. New protections were added to the TVPA in 2008 for unaccompanied minors if they were not coming from Mexico or Canada.

Late last year a U.S. Bishops’ Mission sought to determine why there is such a dramatic increase in the flow of vulnerable youth. The report indicates that there is no simple answer but instead a number of interrelated factors, what they labeled the “perfect storm” of a number of problems including: the absence of economic opportunity, the lack of quality education and access to education generally and the resulting inability for individuals to financially support themselves and their families in their home communities, the desire to reunify with family in the United States, and the increased violence including gang violence and coercion within parts of the countries most affected. The report can be obtained at: Mission to Central America: Flight of Unaccompanied Children to the United States

What has been left unsaid is that a number of the journeys north are influenced by a network of traffickers who exploit and frequently abuse child victims. Families and victims may be enticed into a promise of better lives in the U.S. and the promise, by some reports in the media, cost anywhere from $3000 to $6000 per child. Children (and adults in many instances) may then find their way into forced labor or sex trafficking once they arrive in other countries including the United States. Each year, as a result of the TVPA, the State Department releases its Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) which examines each country and rates the progress or lack of progress of countries in regard to their efforts to prevent human trafficking. The 2014 report indicated the following for the three countries:

“Guatemala is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Guatemalan women, girls, and boys are exploited in sex trafficking within the country, as well as in Mexico, the United States, Belize, and, to a lesser extent, other foreign countries. Foreign child sex tourists, predominantly from Canada, the United States, and Western Europe, as well as Guatemalan men, exploit children in prostitution. …Guatemalan children are exploited in forced labor in begging and street vending, particularly within Guatemala City and along the border area with Mexico. Guatemalan men, women, and children are also found in conditions of forced labor in agriculture, the garment industry, small businesses, and in domestic service in Mexico, the United States, and other countries. Transnational criminal organizations are reportedly involved in some cases of human trafficking, and gangs reportedly recruit children to commit illicit acts; some of these children may be trafficking victims.”

“El Salvador–Gangs use children for illicit activities, including drug trafficking, and some of these children are trafficking victims. Salvadoran men, women, and children have been subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and the United States. Media and government officials report that organized criminal groups, including transnational criminal organizations, are involved in trafficking crimes in El Salvador. Latin American migrants transit El Salvador en route to Guatemala and North America; some of these migrants are subsequently exploited in sex or labor trafficking.”

“Honduras is principally a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor; to a much lesser extent, Honduras is a destination for women and girls from neighboring countries subjected to sex trafficking. Honduran women and children are exploited in sex trafficking within the country and in other countries in the region, particularly Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and the United States. …Honduran men, women, and children are also subjected to forced labor in other countries, particularly in Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States. …NGOs report that gangs and criminal organizations exploit girls in sex trafficking, and coerce and threaten young males in urban areas to transport drugs, engage in extortion, or to be hit men. Honduras is a destination for child sex tourists from Canada and the United States. Latin American migrants transit Honduras en route to northern Central America and North America; some of these migrants are subsequently exploited in sex trafficking and forced labor.”

One of the questions raised is how a parent would be willing to let their child go or send them off to another country. Many families see such a journey, with assurances of secure travel, as a better opportunity for a better life for their child. On June 12, the U.S. Labor Department held a forum in recognition of “World Day Against Child Labor”, one survivor of forced labor, “A.G” described her forced child labor in the United States after being smuggled from Togo into the United States at the age of nine. She along with her siblings became entrapped in Michigan after promises of a better life in the U.S. made by relatives and smugglers to her parents. In her response to questions from the audience she explained how many families in her country and continent see an opportunity for children to live in the United States or Europe as an opportunity for a better life for their children. She was eventually rescued through the actions of her school working with Department of Homeland Security and federal prosecutors. Traffickers play a large and profitable role in moving many children across the globe.

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