Guest Blog: Ending ‘Temporary Protected Status’ May Increase Human Trafficking of Children

By Colleen O’Day

Colleen O’Day, writer and anti-trafficking advocate




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.”

Some of those children end up trapped working as household servants, factory and farm workers, or miners for gold and other precious metals and gems. They’re denied fair wages or any wages. Others are forced to peddle or beg.

In January, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security extended TPS for 7,000 Syrians for 18 months. Had they been deported, the Syrians would have faced returning to their former home, where the carnage from the seven-year civil war is getting worse. Or they would have become refugees in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, the European Union, and other nations that have already taken in more than 5 million Syrians, half of them under 18.

Meanwhile, protection for tens of thousands of other immigrants from six other countries, including Honduras, Somalia, and Sudan, is set to expire in 2018. It’s unclear if the Trump administration will renew their security status. That uncertainty has set off widespread fear and panic. If they were ordered to leave, some would decide to risk remaining in the U.S. illegally.

Enrile believes government inaction is yet another factor that may make families and children more vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers, this time on U.S. soil.

“The less we have clear policies on these populations, the easier it is to drive these populations underground,” she says. They end up “hidden in plain sight. They become this invisible entity.”

Colleen O’Day is a digital marketing manager and provides community outreach support for 2U Inc.’s social work, mental health and K-12 education programs. Find her on Twitter @ColleenMODay.