Biden must get serious about ending human trafficking

January 19, 2023

By Chad Wolf & Rob Law

For nearly two years, we have heard a lot of talk from the Biden administration about its commitment to bringing “an end to human trafficking.”

President Biden claims his administration is leading the fight to counter it, but the American people know that actions speak louder than words. In just two years, a record 306,000 vulnerable children have been trafficked and smuggled to the border — more than 1.3 times the number over the entire four years of the Trump administration.

By that measure, the Biden administration has failed to protect victims of the heinous act of human trafficking. With January being National Human Trafficking Prevention Month and Jan. 11 designated National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, it is past time for the Biden administration to get serious about ending human trafficking.

The biggest driver of human trafficking since January 2021 has been the administration’s open border policies. That’s the hard truth. While members of the administration play rhetorical word games, saying that their policies are “compassionate,” human traffickers have been emboldened to target vulnerable migrants, especially unaccompanied alien children.

These ruthless actors have subjected hundreds of thousands of migrants to incalculable physical, mental and sexual abuse on the journey north through Central America and Mexico to the United States, where too many of their futures consist of forced labor, entrapment in debt bondage, or sex slavery. The trauma does not end when they cross the southern border unlawfully. Those physical and emotional scars remain for life. 

The legacy of the Biden administration at the halfway point of the term is one of enabling human traffickers. The current administration’s policy decision to exempt all migrant children from the Title 42 requirement to quickly return them to their home country guaranteed that every child who made it to the border would be allowed into the U.S. This was music to the ears of the trafficking networks who have responded by trafficking and smuggling approximately 840 victimized alien children per day. This inhumanity, fueled by Biden administration policies, has generated the trafficking cartels $13 billion a year — up from $50 million in 2019.

Much like the pain and suffering of the migrant children, the Biden administration’s complicity does not end at the border. Under current law, once children are taken into custody at the border, the Department of Homeland Security is required to quickly process them and transfer custody to the Department of Health and Human Services, which has the responsibility of placing these children with “sponsors.” But the Biden administration has implemented two policies conducive to trafficking in this arrangement.

First, the administration loosened vetting standards for volunteers at the Health and Human Services centers that hold children before sponsor placement. Under this policy, adults with incomplete background checks, including mandatory fingerprinting, are still allowed to volunteer and have access to these children.

Relaxing these guidelines compromises the welfare of these children. It gives traffickers the opportunity to infiltrate government facilities and continue the abuse or keep tabs on them before they are released. Relatedly, Health and Human Services is now subjecting “sponsors” to significantly fewer vetting procedures than have previous administrations, including being the first administration to release these young migrant boys and girls to sponsors who refuse to submit to a background check. This irresponsible policy makes it easier for traffickers to pose as sponsors, and the government blindly hands these vulnerable children over to their abusers. This is inexcusable and unacceptable.

If this sounds dystopian and unbelievable, that’s because it is hard to imagine why these intentional decisions were made. No plausible explanation has been offered as to why the administration embarked on a strategy that would knowingly put children in such dire circumstances.

While the federal government and other entities provide support to the victims rescued from the evil of human trafficking, the America First policy prioritizes the prevention of trafficking from originating. This approach saves vulnerable populations from ever being subjected to the trauma of trafficking. To accomplish this, the harmful Health and Human Services policies must end, and the Department of Homeland Security needs to bring back “Remain in Mexico,” the Asylum Cooperative Agreements and other proven strategies that disrupt the trafficking networks. The American people want the border secure because they don’t want to be complicit in human trafficking.

What will it take for the Biden administration to get serious about ending human trafficking?

Read the Op-Ed in the Washington Times here

• Chad Wolf is the former acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and executive director and chair of the Center for Homeland Security and Immigration at the America First Policy Institute. Robert Law is the director of the Center for Homeland Security and Immigration at the America First Policy Institute and a former senior official at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services during the Trump administration.