Immigration Reform Will Deter Human Trafficking, Not Increase It

Recently, Christian author Kelly Monroe Kullberg spoke on a radio program about immigration policy, critiquing the Senate's bipartisan immigration reform bill. Ms. Kullberg suggested that the bill, if passed into law, would result in "open borders," which, she argued, would lead to an increase in human trafficking.

As the President and CEO of World Relief, I respectfully disagree.

I certainly share Ms. Kullberg's concern for victims of human trafficking. Working in partnership with local churches as well as with law enforcement agencies, World Relief serves victims of both sex trafficking and labor trafficking in locations throughout the United States and globally.

We also seek to address the structural issues that contribute to the horrors of trafficking, including the demand for sex trafficking tied to the pornography industry, a foster care system where too many children age out of care and into the lure of traffickers, and, yes, a dysfunctional immigration system that keeps foreign-born victims afraid of reporting their situations to law enforcement. Contrary to Ms. Kullberg's claims, our experience and that of most other anti-trafficking organizations has been that certain aspects of the U.S.'s current immigration system - not good faith, bipartisan efforts to reform that system - actually facilitate the injustice of human trafficking.

A recent Department of Justice report illustrates the connection between immigration policy and labor trafficking, in particular: It found that fully 95 percent of labor trafficking victims were foreign-born; of those, more than 70 percent were undocumented. Traffickers prey upon individuals who, in their desperation to enter the U.S. to escape extreme poverty, believe too-good-to-be-true promises of work and educational opportunities, only to be sold into slavery or prostitution and made to work under force, fraud or coercion. The State Department estimates that as many as 17,500 foreign-born individuals are trafficked into the U.S. in any given year.

Foreign-born victims of human trafficking - alone in an unknown land and usually unable to speak English - are often so isolated that they do not know how to report their situations, or they have been so psychologically marred by abuse, mistreatment and the shame that results that they think a better life is out of reach. In many cases, they are kept in bondage because they are afraid to report the offenses against them.

For the undocumented trafficking victim, this fear has an even stronger hold. Victims know that they are present in the U.S. in violation of the law. As a result, they fear that reporting violence, threats and labor abuses to law enforcement will result in only their own punishment, rather than their abusers'. Further, they fear that reporting abusers' crimes could result in harm to their loved ones back home - a threat traffickers use to retain control, deterring victims from running away or going to the police.

In short, our broken immigration legal system has been a trafficker's best friend. That is why, as the Senate debated its bipartisan immigration legislation last May, I signed on to a letter organized by the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking - a coalition that includes evangelical groups such as International Justice Mission and World Vision as well as secular anti-trafficking organizations - publicly praising the bill's anti-trafficking provisions.

We need to vocally support immigration reform that would bring the undocumented out of the shadows, removing their vulnerability to exploitation, as well as secure our borders to ensure that victims are not smuggled into the U.S. unlawfully. ("Open borders" are certainly not part of the Senate's bill, which directs an unprecedented level of resources to border security, nor part of any recent proposals being considered by the House of Representatives). We also must fix our legal immigration system such that people seeking work, reunification with family in the U.S. or refuge from persecution can enter through proper legal channels and not be preyed upon by traffickers.

If we are to be faithful to the biblical call "to proclaim freedom for the captives" (Isaiah 61:1), we must be willing to speak out not only against traffickers but also against a broken system that keeps them in business.

Stephan Bauman is President and CEO for World Relief.

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