By Colleen O’Day
With one sweeping announcement, the Trump administration recently began dismantling an almost 30-year-old program that has sheltered some of the nation’s most vulnerable immigrants from being forcibly returned to their homelands.
So far, almost 250,000 adults and children from El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Haiti – most of whom arrived here illegally – have been stripped of their Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and given months to leave the U.S. Begun in 1990, the humanitarian program exempted from deportation people who fled natural and man-made disasters in their countries.
At the same time, the White House has embraced a broader approach to immigration that equates open borders with permitting “drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities,” as President Trump said.
Taken together, the Trump administration’s actions have diminished the U.S.’s historical role as a safe harbor for the world’s refugees. And some of the foreigners denied entry may well fall prey to human traffickers, says Annalisa Enrile, professor at the University of Southern California’s online Doctor of Social Work program.
Some 21 million people around the world are victims of human trafficking, forced or deceived into modern-day slavery and the sex trade. Traffickers exploit poverty and desperation – and children may be most vulnerable of all.
Enrile says people living in nations riven by war, political upheaval, and natural catastrophes are easy targets for traffickers seeking to profit from debt bondage, domestic servitude, or child labor.
Stripping away protected status for immigrants “makes people more desperate,” Enrile says. “You’ll take chances that you normally wouldn’t. And a lot of those chances now include trafficking.”
Enrile, who traveled to the Philippines to study the link between poverty and human trafficking, says –, wittingly or unwittingly – some poor parents turn their offspring over to traffickers for bonded labor.
“In a lot of these developing countries there is this, quote opportunity unquote” for even very young children to earn a living, she says. “The kids will be engaging in the labor force at a much earlier age because they have to help the family.”