How can we protect migrant children from trafficking risks? - We Welcome

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It can be difficult to separate facts from myths when it comes to human trafficking. The first step in effective advocacy is understanding and education. We’re looking to the experts to learn the unique ways that migrant children are vulnerable to trafficking, and what we can do to help.

In another recent post, we shared information about how immigrants can be vulnerable to trafficking, especially (but not exclusively) if they have an undocumented status. Unaccompanied migrant children have an additional layer of vulnerability due to their recent migration to a new and unfamiliar country, and also since they are without a guardian. Whether they arrive at the border alone or are separated from their non-parent family members at the border, unaccompanied migrant children are in an extremely vulnerable position.

There are laws in place with the intention of protecting these unaccompanied children because of their increased vulnerability. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) requires special screening for unaccompanied children and provides procedural protections for them during their immigration proceedings.

Unlike other categories of immigrants encountered by immigration officials, unaccompanied children are under the jurisdiction of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) rather than the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). These children are required by law to be transferred promptly from DHS custody to less restrictive and more child-appropriate ORR facilities.

ORR is responsible for locating and vetting appropriate sponsors for the children in the U.S., and for ensuring that children in custody are properly cared for and have access to legal counsel. 

Concerning reports

In recent years we have seen large numbers of unaccompanied children arriving at our southern border and have been disappointed by the government’s lack of preparation and coordination to provide them with adequate care and protection. 

In February 2023, the New York Times published a chilling report on widespread issues of exploitation and child labor among those who arrived as unaccompanied children. The report found that ORR had been unable to reach over 85,000 children after their release over the last 2 years, and lost immediate contact with a third of migrant children. This lack of accountability and oversight by ORR is deeply concerning and unacceptable, and we must do better as a nation.

However, it is important not to interpret these reports to mean that all of these children are victims of human trafficking or that every child arriving at the U.S. border has been trafficked. We must look at the facts rather than jump to conclusions that could distract from finding solutions, and can even bring further harm to the most vulnerable.

What can we do to help?

  • Seek out factual information so we don’t inadvertently spread misinformation that distracts from important work or that de-centers those impacted by trafficking. 
  • Follow organizations that do on-the-ground work to get accurate information on ways to engage. We appreciate the work and expertise of Polaris Project and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).
  • Contact your elected officials to let them know that child safety is important to you, and that you support legislation that protects the dignity and safety of migrant children at the border, and at every step of their immigration proceedings as well.


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