How Immigration Policy Hurts Anti–Human Trafficking Efforts

“We need to be tough on crime. We need to crack down on illegal immigration.”

Such is the rallying cry of President Donald Trump and many Republicans in particular. That rallying cry is part of why the government is shut down over the issue of a wall, as of the time of my writing this.

But it’s not just a Trump, Republican, or conservative thing to be tough on immigration. I say that because Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, saw more people deported in his eight years than every 20th century President of the United States combined. And through it all, many Democrats seemed not to care, pay attention, and/or say anything. This tough approach to illegal immigration includes people who like to view themselves as “bleeding-heart liberals.”

The consequences of this tough approach are disastrous for efforts to combat human trafficking.

One example of tough immigration policy hurting anti–human trafficking efforts is with President Trump’s policy with people who get denied a “T visa.” A T visa is a visa that allows victims of human trafficking, regardless of immigration status, to stay in the United States, to work, and to access benefits; people can do all of this while working with law enforcement on their human trafficking cases. People who have been denied T visas in the past were generally still allowed to stay in the United States without any problem. However, under this administration, there is now a new set of guidelines that endangers trafficked individuals: “But under the new guidelines, denial of a T visa will trigger an automatic summons for a hearing before an immigration judge — known as a ‘notice to appear.’ Legal experts say such a notice effectively marks the start of the deportation process.” To make matters worse, it has simultaneously been made more difficult than before for victims of human trafficking to receive T visas.[1] The consequence of such a tough approach to trafficked individuals who are undocumented is disastrous, according to many experts, because it creates a reluctance for trafficked victims to come forward. This reluctance to come forward, which is the result of tough immigration policy such as this, only helps traffickers and hurts the trafficked.

The T visa debacle, however, is only part of an anti-migrant stance of Presidents Trump and Obama that has hurt efforts to combat human trafficking. Denise Brennan, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., said that, “The dirty little secret about trafficking in this environment of 2.5 million deportations under President Obama and now President Trump’s obvious anti-migrant stance is there has not been a political will to really find people. I just don’t think we’ve been looking for trafficked people.”[2] The Global Slavery Index, which is a global study of modern-day slavery conditions by country, likewise gave a stern rebuke of modern American immigration policy: “A survey of service providers conducted by Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), Freedom Network USA, and Polaris in 2017 found that new immigration enforcement policies and practices are increasing their clients’ vulnerability to human trafficking.”[3] Talk that is tough on migrants and supportive of walls may score political points, but it certainly does not seem to help any efforts on human trafficking. Once again, that is of benefit to traffickers and of hurt to the trafficked.

Granted, not all victims of human trafficking in the United States are illegal immigrants. As a result, issues with combatting human trafficking go well beyond confronting immigration issues. Nevertheless, one who is passionate about human trafficking issues would want to do everything possible on all fronts to reduce human trafficking, and that includes dealing with immigration policies that hurt the nation’s efforts in addressing human trafficking.

It may be politically popular at times to be tough on illegal immigration, and politically unpopular to relax certain stances on illegal immigration and deportations. However, sometimes the best thing to do is the unpopular thing to do. In this case, maybe the best thing to do is to change policies on immigration enforcement so that the United States does not create an even greater problem with trafficking.


[1] https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/07/09/new-us-policy-raises-risk-of-deportation-for-immigrant-victims-of-trafficking-immigration-visa/

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/trafficking-conference-immigration-idUSL1N1HS1T2

[3] https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/2018/findings/country-studies/united-states/