It’s easy to forget the faces behind the numbers, especially when it comes to immigration. But the migration crisis at the southern border isn’t just a matter of scope, although the Border Patrol has truly been overwhelmed by an unprecedented amount of border crossings.
A humanitarian problem is at the root of this migration crisis too. The violence in countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras has created a demand for human traffickers whose empty promises and exorbitant fees drive and direct the flow of migrants to the border.
These traffickers in turn victimize the migrants themselves, many of whom die in transit, are sexually assaulted, or even end up sexually trafficked. Women are raped and girls are sold. Unfortunately, few of the traffickers are prosecuted. Just 526 traffickers were convicted in 2018. This rampant, unrestricted human trafficking is the real crisis at the border, and it’s past time to address it.
The solution to the scourge of human trafficking has two parts.
The first, of course, is to secure our border. Reform will fail so long as our porous border keeps inviting traffickers to ply their trade unhindered. Men, women, and children will continue to die in the desert, abandoned by traffickers who squeezed them for every dollar.
Thankfully, the Trump administration is focused on building a border wall. Mile after mile of new barriers are going up to replace ineffective structures, with plans in place to build 450 to 500 miles of barrier by the end of next year. By keeping his campaign promise, President Trump is laying the groundwork for the other reforms we need to staunch the flow of human trafficking.
The next step toward ending human trafficking is to fairly and uniformly enforce our asylum laws.
There are many pathways to legal entry, and asylum is merely one of them. The guidelines are very clear: Asylum is offered to migrants who are fleeing a credible threat from their own government. And that threat must be based on one of five factors: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Here’s who doesn’t qualify for asylum: those fleeing impoverished or violent countries and those looking for better economic opportunities for themselves and their families. This doesn’t mean there’s no pathway for them to lawfully enter our country, it just means they don’t quality for asylum.
But here’s where the scam that human traffickers have been running comes in.
They know the border is overwhelmed and that Americans, in our compassion, want to give asylum-seekers a fair hearing. This is the weakness they’ve exploited, promising would-be migrants that if they’re caught, they’ll simply be released into the U.S. while their cases are pending. That’s why claims for asylum have increased from 5,171 in 2007 to 91,786 in 2016, and the numbers are still rising.
Again, we see the Trump administration responding with compassionate, common-sense rules for asylum-seekers. The Migrant Protection Protocol stands out as a clear example.
Under the old rules, asylum-seekers would be released into the U.S. as they await their court dates, and many would simply not show up to court. By sending asylum claimants back to Mexico, (still thousands of miles from the danger they say they’re fleeing) the Trump administration is taking away from human traffickers their most potent selling point. Last week, the Supreme Court cleared the way for this policy to go into effect, but more can be done.
Rep. Lance Gooden has introduced legislation that targets the worst of the many crimes at the border: child trafficking. As the Texas Republican notes, “children are being bought and sold like cattle at an auction to take advantage of our broken immigration system by claiming fraudulent family ties.” Gooden’s bill would require DNA testing for those claiming families ties and mandate prosecution for caught lying.
By making it harder for traffickers to smuggle in men, women, and children, and by stepping up the compassionate but fair enforcement of our asylum rules, we can eliminate the inhumane industry that’s causing the border crisis.