Tim Head: Children being bought and sold for sex are the hidden victims of the border crisis

The dramatic photograph of a 2-year-old Honduran girl crying while U.S. Border Patrol agents search her mother on the United States-Mexico border in June captured the attention of the international press, won the World Press Photo of the Year, and helped define the public fight over U.S. immigration policy for months.

The gut-wrenching stories and photographs of children separated from their guardians on our southern border garner online clicks, television ratings, and talk radio audiences. However, hidden behind the headlines and away from prying cameras is a much more sinister issue. It's the children who are smuggled across our southern border to be bought and sold for sex.

Since 2007, there have been over 34,000 sex-trafficking cases reported in the United States. Approximately 600 of the cases annually involved foreign nationals smuggling men, women, and children across our southern border.

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Central American and Mexican cartels control the billion dollar sex trade crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Last year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York convicted five Mexican nationals residing illegally in the U.S. who were part of the Rendon-Reyes Trafficking Organization. The group smuggled young women and girls from Mexico and Central America and forced them into the sex trade.

Women and girls, some as young as 14, were coerced or abducted and then smuggled across the southern border to perform sex acts for willing buyers. Some victims were forced into sex as many as 45 times daily. These women and girls did not voluntarily enter into prostitution; their captors sold them into the sex trade through beatings, sexual assaults, and threats to their families and children at home.

Our national consicence demands that we protect the innocent young men, women, and children crossing our southern border to be bought and sold in this modern-day slave trade.

The Rendon-Reyes cartel is not alone. Victimized young men, women and children are forcibly moved into the United States through our southern border and systematically bought and sold for sex and forced labor.

Over the past year, President Trump has signed four pieces of anti-trafficking legislation focused on the domestic child sex trade.

  • The Abolish Human Trafficking Act provides resources for trafficking victims. 
  • The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act authorized $430 million to fight sex and labor trafficking.
  • The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act removed legal protections for internet platforms that knowingly facilitate child sex trafficking.
  • The Trafficking Victims Protection Act tightens regulations on countries that fail to meet minimum standards of working to end human trafficking, though one piece of legislation with no enforcement trigger is insufficient.

Thankfully, Congress and the Trump administration have increased the resources necessary for law enforcement to fight domestic traffickers, but more is needed to combat trafficking and the cartels flooding our nation with an unlimited supply of child sex slaves.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a report during the Obama administration that tracked unaccompanied minors apprehended at the U.S-Mexico border. The report found that unaccompanied children from Mexico are especially vulnerable to human trafficking after being coerced by drug cartels and local gangs to serve as drug mules. These children are then systematically bought and sold for sex in the United States.

Migrant children from other countries who appear at our southern border are vetted more stringently. They are immediately placed with the Office of Refugee Resettlement to either enter foster care or to be reunited with family members who legally reside in the U.S. This process allows authorities to determine whether a child is a victim of trafficking.

Adequately screening migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border is the only way to put a dent in the sex-trafficking industry. Many of these young people, especially those from Mexico, are sent back to their home country on the same day if there is no discernible evidence of trafficking.

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The American public, the press, and Congress should recognize the horrors inflicted on migrants who are bought and sold for sex by Mexican and Central and South American syndicates. Addressing our security at the U.S.-Mexico border is the only way to combat the international cartels bringing child sex workers across our border.

Our national conscience demands that we protect the innocent young men, women, and children who cross our southern border to be bought and sold in this modern-day slave trade.

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