The physical and emotional despair that drives people to immigrate into the United States illegally creates an environment of vulnerability and abuse. War and driven populations of migrants add to the problem. Further restricting the borders to stop individual illegal crossing can serve to encourage an illegal underground industry which operates by claiming secret routes and secret methods of bringing people over the border beyond the knowledge of authorities. If desperate people can’t do it themselves, they will seek that assistance of experts and exploitation will flourish.
The trafficking problem is enormous. There are an estimated 17,000 to 18,000 foreign nationals who are trafficked into the United States every year, not merely coming across the border, trafficked across. They are kidnapped, forced, lured across with fraudulent promises of good jobs and better lives. Then they are actually employed in commercial sex, pornography, and prostitution, or in domestic servitude, sweatshop factories, agriculture, and other hard labor. Human trafficking merges with other forms of organized crime in the areas of the illegal arms trade, and drug dealing.
The Practice of Traffickers.
According to UN statistics, women and girls comprise 71 percent of human trafficking victims. Children make up a third of the victims.
Human trafficking is illegal in the United States because it contravenes the 13th and 14th amendments to the constitution and based on subsequent criminal laws. Traffickers can be sentenced from between 5 years and life. Usually, the lesser sentences are imposed on people who aid and abet the crime.
Here are some typical examples:
- A trafficker who smuggled workers from Guatemala, including minors, made them work 12 hour days, live in cramped conditions and forced them to pay off a significant debt for their passage.
- A family-run sex trafficking ring lured young women and girls into the United States from Mexico to work as prostitutes. The ring used physical force and assault by death threats. These victims were indentured and made to pay a “smuggling debt.”
- Three brothers illegally transported females into the United States and forced them into prostitution in a number of American cities.
- One man, a Mexican, recruited women through a newspaper advertisement offering jobs. He and a female partner forced them into prostitution.
- A German man, who was an illegal alien himself, smuggled a 14-year-old girl into the United States and coerced her into sex.
What Happens to the Victims of Human Trafficking?
The United Nations recognizes 21 million people across the globe who are victims of trafficking, declaring a World Day against Trafficking in Persons on July 30th. The UN, for its part, has been working to establish funding to aid trafficking victims.
Some human trafficking victims apply for a T-Visa in the United States. The T-Visa was created in 2000, along with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. The Visa allows victims of trafficking to remain in the United States if they agree to cooperate in the prosecution of their trafficker. The program was designed to encourage trafficker victims to contact authorities to report the crime.
Application for the T-Visa can happen after victims contact the police with evidence that they are victims of trafficking. Sarah Paoletti of the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s International Human Rights and Immigration Clinic declares that the long road to rescue hinges on that first contact with law enforcement. However, police can also treat victims as prostitutes, illegal immigrants, and criminals themselves rather than victims. If a victim is charged as a criminal she or he can be prosecuted and deported.
According to Paoletti, getting an attorney to help in the early stages of reporting to police is critical. Anything not done perfectly can destroy a case.
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