Let's Stop Child Smuggling

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Whatever your thoughts on asylum policy, illegal entry, the Flores Consent Decree, DACA recipients, how the drug trade impacts immigration, how immigrant gangs have risen in America, and how children are cared for at the border, let’s address this first: I think the vast majority of people in this country oppose child smuggling and slavery. Something needs to be done before more lives are lost and destroyed. Smugglers will often prey on children traveling to the U.S. because it's easier and more profitable. For a steep price, they will transport kids through Mexico and over the Rio Grande to the U.S. border. A smuggler who goes by the name of "El Lobo" claims to "specialize in smuggling young kids — 13 and below. The youngest we've smuggled was 2 years old." According to a joint statement by UNICEF and World Without Exploitation, "smugglers also take advantage of children and their families by extorting them with threats and false promises."

The problem of children being smuggled over the border has been going on for a long time. But since 2014 the number of children brought to the US from Latin America to work underground has exploded. The Obama administration practically ignored it; the Trump administration prefers to cast illegal migrants as perpetrators of crime. Many of them are victims of it.

To pique your sense of urgency, I would like to throw a large number at you that represents the number of kids smuggled across the border into forced labor—but I can’t. No one knows how many there have been. Tens of thousands for sure and a figure in the hundreds of thousands isn’t unlikely. In two snapshots, the Washington Post put the figures at over 10,000 children in the month for June 2014 alone, and at over 5,000 a month in the fall of 2015.

PBS’ Frontline and UC Berkeley journalism collaborated to tell the story of “Trafficked in America” in which they focused on  Guatemalan boys who were promised good jobs and educations but instead were forced to work long hours at egg farms in Ohio. Watch the documentary. It’s tough viewing, but it’s worth it. Grimly, on the spectrum, these kids might have been the so-called “lucky” ones: they weren’t forced into the sex trade.

So what do we do with these unaccompanied minors crossing our border? I can’t say I know. I have no idea if the country has the political will to take them in, or if they have to be sent home. I think these kids’ ambition and bravery would be an asset to America.But if you think they need a bus ticket home, let’s not argue about that this very instant.

Of this, I’m sure: the government needs to apprehend them and keep them safe until their medium-term fate gets sorted out.We don’t want any more children becoming slaves because we decided to turn them away.

I don’t claim to have answers on immigration issues. This is the one I’m most passionate about, and beyond an insistence that we try to pry these kids from smugglers’ hands and punish smugglers harshly, I don’t have the answer here either.

But among all the arguments on all the sides of all the complex questions, this feels like the comparatively easiest place to start because it’s something nearly everyone can agree on. Please find a way to make your voice heard in support of getting and keeping unaccompanied children out of slavery.