Human Trafficking And The Southern Border NPR's Sarah McCammon talks with Professor Jamie Gates of Point Loma Nazarene University about the fact and fiction surrounding human trafficking across the Southern U.S. border.

Human Trafficking And The Southern Border

Human Trafficking And The Southern Border

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NPR's Sarah McCammon talks with Professor Jamie Gates of Point Loma Nazarene University about the fact and fiction surrounding human trafficking across the Southern U.S. border.


Outrage swelled this past week over humanitarian conditions at the southern border, including over the separation of children from their parents or guardians. The Trump administration has repeatedly pointed to human trafficking, both as a reason for his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and as a justification for separating children from the people they're traveling with. Here's President Trump on CBS News in February.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And this really is an invasion of our country by human traffickers. These are people that are horrible people bringing in women mostly but bringing in women and children.

MCCAMMON: To take a closer look at these claims, we've called Jamie Gates. He directs the Center for Justice and Reconciliation at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and has spent years studying human trafficking near the U.S.-Mexico border. He joins us now. Welcome, professor Gates.

JAMIE GATES: Thank you, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: What do we know, broadly, about how many survivors of trafficking are being brought across the U.S.-Mexico border?

GATES: So our research shows that the trafficking problem in San Diego County is, by far, more local, domestic than it is across the border. In our study, we found 80% of the survivors, 450 survivors that we interviewed, were born and raised in the United States. And of those 20% that were born outside the United States, very few of them were actually trafficked across the border. We know that trafficking does happen across the border. Unfortunately, people conflate smuggling and trafficking all the time. Human trafficking is very specific to having been forced through fraud or coercion - been brought across the border, not by getting someone's help to come across the border.

MCCAMMON: As we've heard, President Trump and other administration officials have raised the specter of human trafficking as a reason for tightening border security and a defense of the administration's practice of separating children from the people they're traveling with. Is that an appropriate way to try to prevent traffickers, specifically, from taking advantage of children?

GATES: Unfortunately, those of us who work on the ground every day, every month, every week - we're a little exasperated by the mischaracterization of trafficking and the causes and the kinds of trafficking by the administration at the moment. The images of people being bound and gagged and dragged across the border in rural areas just is so far out of the norm. What we mostly find is people are coming across in legal means through ports of entry if they are being trafficked across the border and by coercion, by psychological coercion. By far, the most common form of trafficking in our area is somebody being manipulated and wooed into being a victim of sex trafficking, for example.

MCCAMMON: I mean, we are hearing and seeing these reports of people trying to seek asylum at U.S. ports of entry and often having to wait a very long time to be able to do that. Then on the other side of the border, there are children and others in U.S. detention facilities. In either case, how big of a danger are they for being trafficked?

GATES: Absolutely. We're really worried for the families that are forced to stay in Mexico while they're waiting for their cases to be heard in the United States. That puts them in significantly more danger than if they were kept with families here in the United States - by far more danger. There are far fewer resources and supports - the law enforcement there is far less trained than our law enforcement here to find human trafficking cases. We just think that puts families so much more at risk. It's a very dangerous thing.

MCCAMMON: And on the U.S. side of the border, where we have these detention facilities where people are being held, what about the people there?

GATES: We're really concerned about the children being separated from their families and then not being reunited with family members intentionally by the U.S. government, whether they are their parents or some other family members that they have in the United States, because that puts them not just in great psychological distress, but it puts them in danger of others taking advantage of that situation who aren't family members.

MCCAMMON: Jamie Gates is a professor at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. Thank you so much.

GATES: Thank you.

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