Where is President Biden on Human Trafficking?

January 11, 2022

By Chad Wolf and Bill Woolf

The Biden Administration is missing in action when it comes to combating the heinous crime of human trafficking. While President Biden signed an unprecedented number of executive orders in his first 100 days, none of them pertained to human trafficking. Overall, since taking office, the Biden Administration has done almost nothing of substance or new to combat this heinous crime that afflicts Americans and America’s children every day, as well as millions trapped in slavery around the world.

In comparison, President Trump issued two executive orders targeting human trafficking in the first 100 days of his presidency. The first was aimed at disbanding transnational criminal organizations that traffic humans, and the second concerned online child trafficking and sexual exploitation in the United States.

President Trump made the fight against modern slavery one of his administration’s signature issues, with a record-breaking nine pieces of bipartisan legislation signed into law during his administration. The Trump Administration established the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF), a Cabinet-level entity consisting of 15 departments and agencies, which worked to prosecute traffickers, protect survivors, and combat human trafficking.

The Trump Administration also rolled out a National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, the first of its kind, and created a Public-Private Partnership Advisory Council to End Human Trafficking to advise the PITF. President Trump oversaw the Department of Justice being given the largest anti-trafficking grant in history, nearly $101 million in 2020, and the Department of Homeland Security established the first-ever Center for Countering Human Trafficking, which serves as a hub for victim support, investigative operations, intelligence, and data collection, and training for law enforcement, civil society, and the public. Perhaps most telling of all is that President Trump was willing to dedicate his own time to listening to trafficking survivors. He was the only president to hold a White House summit on human trafficking, including survivor testimonies.

Historically, human trafficking has been an issue with high levels of bipartisan support. In July 2020, then-candidate Biden pledged that if he were elected, he would make it a priority to combat this terrible crime, protect those vulnerable to trafficking, and empower survivors to rebuild their lives with safety, dignity, and opportunity. He laid out several concrete policies his administration would do to achieve these goals. But so far, all those campaign promises have proven empty. He has taken almost zero action to bring them to fruition.

Beyond Biden’s complete lack of initiative to prioritize stopping human trafficking, his policy changes at the southern border have only served to put more people, particularly children, at risk of being trafficked in the United States. Since taking office, the Biden Administration has seen an unprecedented 2 million illegal apprehensions along the southwest border during 2021.  This is the largest number on record—ever. The number of unaccompanied children also broke records—more than 150,000 children entered the country in 2021. That is an increase of 339 percent over 2020 figures.

The southwest border has essentially become a “feeding zone” for traffickers, and the Biden Administration has only made it easier for them to gain access to these children. Because effective border security measures were eliminated in the early days of the Biden Administration, smugglers have effectively persuaded migrant children and parents that they had a better chance of being allowed to stay in the U.S now than under President Trump. The Biden Administration also changed another policy to not require FBI fingerprint background checks for staff and volunteers directly caring for children at the border. Traffickers could now easily use false identities to access children at these emergency sites and lure them into trafficking. 

President Biden’s lack of prioritization is also evidenced by not yet filling or nominating people for critical positions in the Executive Branch regarding trafficking. President Biden has not yet nominated a candidate for Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, who advises the United States Secretary of State and the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights directly and formulates U.S. policy on human trafficking. He also has not filled the dedicated “Human Trafficking Czar” position on the Domestic Policy Council, the first White House employee position devoted to combating trafficking in persons created by President Trump’s Executive Order in January 2020. This position that does not require Senate confirmation and could be filled today.

Every day that President Biden fails to combat human trafficking and advance the important initiatives President Trump left for him, it endangers more and more American lives, especially those of our most vulnerable.

Chad Wolf, who previously served as Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, is chairman of the Center for Homeland Security and Immigration at the America First Policy Institute. Bill Woolf is a Senior Fellow at the America First Policy Institute.  Prior to joining AFPI, he served as Director of Human Trafficking Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice and Acting Principal Deputy Director at the Office for Victims of Crime.