Is there a connection between migration and human trafficking? - We Welcome

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It can be difficult to separate facts from myths when it comes to human trafficking. This crime is often sensationalized and stereotyped through media and culture, which makes it more difficult to provide help and healing to those who need it most. Let’s examine information from the experts to separate facts from fiction so we can be better advocates and neighbors.

A common point of confusion exists about the difference between human trafficking and human smuggling. Smuggling at the border is not always related to trafficking, but it certainly can make an individual vulnerable to trafficking. Let’s take a look at the definitions of human trafficking versus smuggling, according to the State Department.

  • Human trafficking is a crime involving the exploitation of an individual for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.
  • Human smuggling is when a person voluntarily enters into an agreement with a smuggler to gain illegal entry into a foreign country and is moved across an international border. 

There are many myths and misconceptions about trafficking that can be a distraction from fruitful discourse and solutions. Here are some common misconceptions as addressed by the Polaris Project:

  • Human trafficking is not limited to–or even primarily due to–illegal border crossings. Survivors can be trafficked in their own homes all across the country, and most are trafficked by romantic partners and family members. 
  • Despite common media portrayals, trafficking is not limited to women and girls, and it is not always violent. Someone does not have to be kidnapped against their will to be trafficked.
  • Trafficking of migrants and immigrants can happen anywhere in the U.S., not just at the border. 
  • Traffickers do not limit their crimes to those who are in the country without documentation. There have been thousands of cases of immigrants or other foreign nationals being trafficked while living or working in the U.S. legally.

Human trafficking can happen to anyone and in any place, but having recently migrated is one of the most significant risk factors. 

Traffickers look for vulnerabilities–which can include being undocumented or having an unstable living situation–to exploit people and create a sense of dependency.

Our broken immigration system contributes to the problem. Lack of consistent policies creates an ideal situation for traffickers to exploit migrants, and what starts as smuggling can often lead to trafficking when migrants are exploited and forced into labor situations. While immigration reform is not a magic bullet to prevent human trafficking, it can address a significant area of vulnerability and be part of a holistic solution.


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