Could Washington, D.C., Become a Haven for Sex Traffickers?

Washington, D.C., has already declared itself a “sanctuary city.” Now the District of Columbia City Council is considering a bill to decriminalize prostitution. The combination of legally protected sex work and a refusal to cooperate with immigration authorities should have residents of the capital concerned that their city will become a destination of choice for sex traffickers.

According to the U.S. Department of State and the National Institutes of Health, between 15,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked in the United States annually. Women and girls make up the vast majority of trafficking victims. Most are trafficked for sexual exploitation. And trafficking is intimately tied to illegal migration. Criminal gangs regularly smuggle trafficked women and girls across both the northern and southern borders.

D.C.-area law enforcement agencies have recently noted a resurgence in criminal activity by the MS-13 gang. Many of the gang’s members are illegal aliens and one of its primary rackets is sex trafficking.

No one has conducted a formal study tying a rise in gang activity to D.C.’s status as a sanctuary city. But it’s a safe bet that illegal aliens looking to run a criminal enterprise appreciate it when local police stymie U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) efforts to arrest immigration violators. ICE is also the federal law enforcement agency charged with combating human smuggling and trafficking. Legalizing prostitution would only make ICE’s job harder and render the District more attractive to criminals.

One would think that human rights, anti-trafficking and feminist organizations would be protesting this lethal combination of legalized prostitution and protection for immigration violators. But they aren’t. In fact, such organizations typically support measures to decriminalize sex work. The popular narrative among progressive politicians and activists is that legalizing prostitution empowers sex workers and reduces trafficking.

But that hasn’t been the case in places that have decriminalized prostitution, like Holland or Denmark.  In fact, legalized prostitution tends to encourage trafficking, in order to meet increased demand. Apparently many people who would not pay for sex are suddenly willing to do so when the legal and social stigma is removed.

Washington is well on its way to joining Amsterdam and Copenhagen as a paradise for human traffickers. And there is absolutely no reason to believe that MS-13 and other criminal gangs won’t see an American sanctuary city with decriminalized prostitution as the ideal place to set up a low-risk, high-reward trafficking operation.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar

    DC cannot become a sanctuary city for the sex trafficers BECAUSE IT ALREADY IS, JUST TAKE A CLOSER LOOK

  2. avatar

    If these f*kin Liberal Lefty’s keep smokin those left-handed cigarettes, and keep trashing our Constitution, there won’t be a country left for them to live in. Then, they will all be out of a job. Maybe that is the solution? Keep smokin that dope, a$$holes!

  3. avatar

    Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, recently joked that he would run for president of the US in 2020. Well, except for that pesky thing in the constitution about how he’s not eligible, I’m sure the Democrats would love to give him the nomination. Then again, virtually everything they do favors citizens of other countries, particularly Mexicans and their government, over our own citizens. Mr. Fox needn’t bother.