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Biden admin pledges to crack down on human trafficking as migrant crisis roils border

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The Biden administration is touting its efforts to crack down on human trafficking, as it marks a month dedicated to combating the global crime — but also amid an ongoing border crisis that critics say is fueling the criminal activity.

“Human trafficking — whether in the form of forced labor, sex trafficking, or other offenses — is an abhorrent abuse of power and a profoundly immoral crime that strikes at the safety, health, and dignity of millions of people worldwide,” President Biden said in a presidential proclamation to mark National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. 

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“During National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we reaffirm our commitment to protect and empower survivors of all forms of human trafficking, to prosecute traffickers, and to bring an end to human trafficking in the United States and around the world,” he said.

President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with the White House COVID-19 Response Team on the latest developments related to the Omicron variant in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Joe Biden speaks as he meets with the White House COVID-19 Response Team on the latest developments related to the Omicron variant in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“During National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, let us resolve to counter injustice and fortify our commitment to pursue dignity and freedom for all people,” the State Department said on Instagram on Monday.

The administration last month released an updated national action plan to combat trafficking. In his proclamation, Biden touted the plan as linking “anti-trafficking initiatives to our wider efforts to counter illicit financing; advance gender and racial equity; expand the rights and dignity of working people; and promote safe, orderly, and humane migration.”

The reference to migration acknowledges how, while trafficking takes shape in many forms, criminal organizations will use the U.S.-Mexico border as a pipeline to bring people into the United States and subject them to forced labor and other human rights abuses.

The White House’s national plan notes that human trafficking does not require a border (or movement) at all, and that while human trafficking is distinct from human smuggling, “individuals who are smuggled are vulnerable to becoming victims of human trafficking and other serious crime.” 

The report also says that Mexico is the top origin country in human trafficking cases involving foreign national victims in which the United States is the destination. It cites recent cases in which young victims were trafficked by enterprises linked to a region in Central Mexico, and then smuggled into the U.S. and forced into sex acts in New York, Atlanta and elsewhere in the U.S.

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The Biden administration has been facing continued criticism for the ongoing crisis at the southern border, that has seen hundreds of thousands of encounters each month at its peak. In November, there were more than 174,000 encounters, and a total of more than 1.7 million in FY 2021. Critics have blamed the policies of the administration for fueling the crisis and have long expressed concerns that it is leading to an increase in criminal activity, including human trafficking.

“The Biden administration can’t take human trafficking seriously while they have an open border, because an open border just invites more trafficking because the chance of getting arrested and caught are a lot lower when the Border Patrol is busy with family units at the border,” Former acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Thomas Homan told Fox News in an interview on Tuesday.

An image of Tom Homan from'America Reports' on Fox News. 

An image of Tom Homan from ‘America Reports’ on Fox News. 
(Fox News)

The White House plan is calling for immigration authorities to improve screening of all migrants who pass through immigration custody or detention for indicators of human trafficking — including rapid referral to Health and Human Services for minors suspected of having been trafficked. It also makes a priority that immigration protections are in place to make sure trafficking victims are not deported.

The plan notes that some victims of human trafficking are legal immigrants on visas that make their immigration status dependent on continued employment with that employer — and calls for a review of procedures and possible improvements to visas like the H-2 temporary worker programs.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a number of measures it was taking, including improving access to immigration assistance programs, improved training for personnel and initiatives to combat traffickers’ use of financial systems. 

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It also said that in Fiscal Year 2021, the number of trafficking cases taken on by Immigration and Customs Enforcements’ Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) increased from 947 to 1,111, while arrests increased from 1,746 to 2,360. ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) now has human trafficking points of contact in each office.

However, Homan said that increase is likely to come from domestic trafficking, and he believes that trafficking coming across the border is being missed on a large scale.

“When you don’t take immigration enforcement on the border seriously, and you don’t take immigration enforcement seriously in the interior, human trafficking is going to expand and a lot of people are going to get away with it because there isn’t a focus on it,” he said.

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