Border Crisis: Most Unaccompanied Minors are Smuggled In, Not Trafficked

The subject of human trafficking has resurfaced with what is now recognized as a “border crisis” with the flows of unaccompanied minors entering the United States illegally. Human trafficking, a very profitable business (the annual profit derived from it according to United Nations sources is $36 billion/year), is difficult to assess let alone eradicate.

The term trafficking signifies the transportation of persons by means of coercion (whether through force, deception/fraud or abuse of power) into exploitative and slavery-like conditions. Underlying human trafficking is one common denominator: exploitation (the most common forms of exploitation being for sexual and labor purposes) which is not necessarily synonymous to coercion. Not all who are exploited are trafficked but all trafficked are exploited. In all trafficking cases, however, the use of force (direct or psychological) or deception is used to exploit a person for profit.

Here are the main points of what constitutes trafficking:

Human Trafficking and Smuggling

Human Trafficking gained its worldwide spotlight following the adoption in 2000 of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UN TOC). This principal instrument to combat organized crime was supplemented with two protocols (known as the Palermo Protocols) that came into force in December 2003 and January 2004 respectively:

–       the ‘Trafficking Protocol’ or the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and

–       the ‘Smuggling Protocol’ or the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air.

Trafficking in persons is, according to the Trafficking in Persons Protocol:

• the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons.

• by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability.

• for the purposes of exploitation. Forms of exploitation include but are not limited to sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery or similar practices, servitude or the removal of organs.

In summary, three elements are at the core of the trafficking process: first the action of recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons; second the means used to commit such acts (threat or use of force, coercion, deception etc.); and third the purpose/motivation behind trafficking acts (forced labor, sexual exploitation, servitude etc.). Human trafficking as such is the intersection of these three components; should one end of the chain go missing, trafficking does not take place.

Moreover, trafficking refers to the recruitment and transport of people with the intent to subject them to exploitation. Exploitation alone, it is important to reiterate, does not constitute trafficking. As the UN Special Rapporteur, Radhika Coomaraswamy notes, “it is the combination of the coerced transport and the coerced end practice that makes trafficking a distinct violation from its component parts.”

One should differentiate between two different notions (referred to through two distinct protocols): smuggling and trafficking. A smuggler helps the migrant cross a border illegally in exchange for a specified amount of money. The migrant is totally aware and willing to move to a particular destination. The smuggling action ends with the migrants’ arrival upon destination whereas, with trafficked migrants, exploitation continues. With smuggling, the focus is on the illegal movements across borders while for trafficking, the emphasis is on coercion and exploitation. The distinction here is on the voluntary and involuntary migratory experiences. Moreover, smuggling is always transnational and always illegal whereas trafficking can take place within state borders and can be legal.

Unaccompanied Minors: Smuggled not Trafficked

Let us go back to our subject of interest, the unaccompanied minors entering the United States illegally. As we saw earlier, trafficking is about the INTERSECTION of three elements: action, means, and motivation.

What about action in this case? It is clear that these children are being transported across borders.

The next question is: with what means? There is nothing to suggest that these children were either forced, coerced, or deceived into crossing the border. Many testimonies even suggest they and/ or their parents were well aware of the multiple opportunities available to them in the U.S.

More importantly, what is the motivation underlying this move? Are these children to be exploited once in the U.S, will they be forced into servitude, menial labor, or sold as sexual objects? Again, that does not appear to be the case, quite the opposite. These children are reunited with relatives already in the United States in many cases, and they will eventually have access to education, health care and other benefits. At a minimum, they will be sent back home.

It is true, however, that not much is known about the “supposed relatives” those children are turned over to. Overwhelmed government officials cannot run systematic and thorough background checks to ensure kids are placed with trustworthy and capable adults. Some of these children may be turned over to adults who are incapable of proper care at a minimum or violent criminals and abusers at worst. Yet, even this grim scenario does not qualify as trafficking. Abuse of children is indeed a crime but not that of trafficking. Exploitation and forced labor is, but ONLY if it is paired with the transport of the children AND the proven INTENT of exploitation.

Let us recapitulate: the only element pertaining to trafficking here is the action of transport across the border. No force or deception appear to have been used throughout this process.

No exploitation is intended either. The motivation of the smugglers is obviously money. As for the parents who are sending their children across the border, their aim is perhaps the desire of a better life, and a possible access to U.S. benefits and citizenship (for themselves and their kids as mentioned in a previous post). Again, it is important to underline this key point, these kids are not exploited once on U.S soil. If anything, it is these kids and their relatives who are exploiting a broken immigration system and a “supportive” administration.

Hence, in this case, there is no human trafficking; it is a pure case of smuggling. One important nuance needs to be made here: people can agree to being smuggled – they can even pay the smugglers – and still be victims of trafficking. Initial consent is not incompatible with trafficking. A person can willingly agree to migrate and work for an employer and still be the victim of trafficking. This consent, however, is rendered meaningless as soon as the person revokes it and is forced in one way or another to carry on with the job. The fact, therefore, that one paid to be smuggled into a country does not exempt him/her from being deceived into trafficking. Again, trafficking is not about how one crossed the border; it is about what happens next. Was that person transported with the intent to be exploited? As discussed above, the answers to both is no in this particular case.

And if indeed these kids were trafficked as some claim, who are the traffickers? As we know,  human trafficking can be looked upon as a chain that starts with people who, in a way, ‘supply’ the trafficked person and ends with people who benefit from the trafficked person through, for example, forced labor. Consequently, as Coomaraswamy observes, “[c]riminalizing the activities of all parties involved throughout the process of trafficking would facilitate efforts to both prevent trafficking and punish traffickers.” All parties involved here would be the parents at the beginning of the chain, the smugglers; and, U.S. officials and the kids’ relatives at the end. Of course, those who are throwing the term “human trafficking” around are not advocating such prosecutions.

Let us be realistic and not fall into easy traps of victimization. While one may feel sympathy for these children, very few are victims of trafficking. They are simply being smuggled into the United States of America under the assumption they will be welcomed by its current administration. On that last point, they were right.

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  1. Pingback: Why Did They Come Now?

  2. avatar

    I suppose you also want to feed us the garbage of how bad life is and how things are controlled by gangs in the places they come from. I sat with a businessman on a Delta flight last week who was going back to Guatemala and then to El Salvador. Why? He and his wife cam to America the same way in the 1990s, smuggled into California. Now he sends his family back to those terrible places (to spend a month with family). The gangs must be really bad. Because he was on his way there to join them for vacation.Oh, yes, and those MS-13 gang members coming across the border must have life pretty bad too if they come into the US to continue their way of life! Cut the tears and the BS! Crossing illegally is a crime. If something happens to you opr you get sent back….that is justice served!

    • avatar
      arnlof sweigeir ft on

      U will always have a small percent that enjoys the freedoms of any country….like yours: Libya…..

  3. avatar

    It Costs $6000/MO to Keep the Smuggled Central American KIds in America

    How much is a plane ticket or train/bus ticket back to Central America and a bag lunch? $1000?

  4. avatar

    Let’s look at the world’s largest legitimate refugee camps. They’re in Kenya & Ethiopia near the border with Somalia; Jordan near the Sutian border and in Gaza near the Palestinian border. In EVERY instance the country of relocation is an IMMEDIATE border country.

    If these “kids” were simply ‘fleeing violence’ as the left says, they’d have no reason to travel beyond Mexico City. The fact that they flee thousands of miles across multiple countries and parents or themselves raise the money to get here proves that the intent first and foremost is to come take advantage of America’s system. This is a destination trip to America for all the free everything they’ll get why Americans are hurting, blaming it on ‘fleeing violence’ and they’re “children” is a cop-out.

    We can’t take care of the world as we can’t take care of our veterans, cover people with Obamacare, lack of doctors now as they leave practice due to high insurance rates and low reimbursement, greedy insurance companies, hospitals closing down, homeless (even those who are working are homeless), deficit out of control…and it’s a slap in the face to Americans and those that chose to come to America legally.

    We are potentially being exposed to diseases, the consequences of which can be epic, then what will our broken senate and house do? All the billionaires and bleeding hearts should send their money to those countries if they feel they need to take care of the world; I know I can’t afford it. Obama surely doesn’t care, he’s proved it every day since Day 1 he was elected – he is systematically destroying America and most of our elected officials need to get a backbone!

    And for pete’s sake, our border patrol belongs ON THE border, not 20 to 40 feet away!!!

  5. avatar

    They don’t understand anything about other people’s rights. People ain’t saying nothing but they are tired of them and hope that someone will put a curse on all of the bad ones.

  6. avatar

    If we cannot provide for all American Citizens that means that we do not have enough money and resources to be providing services to non citizens at the expense of other Americans. It sounds like we don’t have enough.

  7. avatar

    American Citizens are even denied SSDI because of resources being used up by Russians and Illegal Immigrants coming into the states and having children they cannot otherwise afford to provide for. this is as silly as Street harassment. People have worked for SSDI and been denied because there is not enough to go around? Well, then send these people back.

  8. avatar

    Also, it seems like it is very uncomfortable for illegal immigrants to have to lay in wait to get their citizenship papers. Perhaps, they would be better off waiting in their place of citizenship until this sorted out. The laws are looking up for illegal immigrants despite the harm done to American citizens. They should all go back today.

    I would like to see illegal immigrants get a satisfactory resolution to their citizenship issues but not at the expense of Americans. Help is on the way as they say: Many laws have been turned in the favor of illegal immigrants. More good may be on the way to them but it should not come just because they demand it as if someone is going to cower to them. As a Colored or Negro American I don’t owe them a goddamn thing. If it was not for my people dying for all under dogs Mexicans would not have the rights they currently have.

    They should pack those kids at the border up, go back to Mexico and provide for those kids they brought into this world.

  9. avatar

    This morning I began wondering about a solution to our Illegal Immigration crisis. Illegal immigrants have a sad circumstance they are facing. As blue- blooded Americans we sympathize with them. I don’t believe for two moments that many of us are so cold that we don’t care if the next man has one hot meal per week and a warm place to sleep at night. You can correct me if I am wrong.

    On the other hand, we need a solution to illegal immigration that is FAIR for all concerned. It should be a solution that should not deprive legalized Americans. A solution that penalized legalized Americans would be counter- productive.

    Now, most kids should not be born unless a family can provide for them, this should be a law. In smart places like China it is. On the other hand, a child does not ask to be born therefore they should not be tortured. Nevertheless, no legalized American child should be put out just so an illegal child can be taken care of. What do you think thye would do if a bunch of American kids showed up at their border? They would send them back to their place of citizenship and those with no caregivers would go to some kind of Foster Home.

    What a dilemma this is but we have solved worse problems. I think we can handle this.

    What I think needs to happen right away is that illegal immigrants who do not work, have a business or are not in a gainful university program should go back to their place of citizenship- Mexico or South America, Russia until the immigration laws are ready to make them permanent citizens. I am not against legal immigration. This way we don’t have all this crime and American citizens can get the health care and other things they need to live right. There are people who have been waiting years to get healthcare and services that have been put out because of illegal immigrants. Does this sound FAIR to you?

  10. avatar

    Thank you for the clarification about the legal distinctions between “smuggling” and “trafficking”. I am not a lawyer so does this mean that the Dianne Feinstein law that does not allow us to send these children from Central America home right away would not apply to the children if they were classified as smuggled?