I cannot comment on the accuracy of all the reasons cited by President Trump’s for declaring a national emergency to build a border wall. But I do know that he is mistaken in believing that such a wall will have any discernable impact in stemming the tide of human trafficking in our country.
The majority of human trafficking victims in the United States are American citizens—indeed, the foster care-to-trafficking pipeline is well-documented. But the majority of foreign-born human trafficking victims enter U.S. territory on legal visas. Of these, 58.9% are labor trafficking victims, according to the Washington Post. In these cases, women are generally recruited in their home country by traffickers who help them apply for a temporary work visa. Once they arrive in the U.S., the women’s passports are taken away and they are forced to do domestic work under poor conditions and little pay.
Rather than a border wall, a better solution to fighting human trafficking, particularly foreign-born trafficking victims, is for the Administration to increase the number of T visas it grants. T visas grant “temporary legal status and work authorization for which certain victims of human trafficking and their immediate family members are eligible”. Unfortunately, there has been a significant decrease in the number of T visas awarded. It was reported in the U.S. State Department’s 2018 Trafficking in Person’s Report that the Department of Homeland Security granted 750 visas in 2017 compared to 986 in 2016.
Although the application process for these visas has not changed, the process in which applications are judged has become increasingly difficult under the Trump Administration. In keeping with the government’s stricter policies towards immigration, it has become riskier to apply for a T visa. Under a new policy issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), those who fail to meet the standards for the T visa are at greater risk for deportation, despite their circumstances.
The demographic that is most affected by these new policies are unaccompanied minors. Undocumented LGBTQ youth, for example, often flee their home country because they have been rejected by their families and subjected to abuse and discrimination. Due to their inability to find a job because of their undocumented status, they are more likely to be homeless and fall into the trap of human trafficking.
The threat of deportation prevents victims from applying for a T visa, especially when victims also have a previous arrest record in relation to their trafficking. Not only does this increase the risk of being trafficked, but also of being deported—back to countries where their lives are at risk.
The drop in T-visa applications isn’t just harming innocent victims, it is also undermining the U.S. government in their effort to stop trafficking. When victims provide evidence and testimony, in the hope that they will receive protection, it leads to more prosecutions.
Our country doesn’t need a border wall, we need government policies that encourage cooperation and coordination with victims. We need a better system for protecting unaccompanied minors instead of creating more bureaucratic obstacles that intimidate them and keep them from seeking refuge from their unfortunate circumstances. If we can better understand how trafficking networks function within the United States, we can more effectively combat the scourge of human trafficking.