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Trump Is Using the Border Crisis to Stoke Human Trafficking Hysteria

Misleading claims about people smuggling serve only to justify the government's already bloated surveillance and law enforcement powers.

CBP/Cover Images/NewscomCBP/Cover Images/NewscomOn Tuesday, President Trump argued that the media is enabling human trafficking at the southern border during a speech to a small business group in Washington. "They are helping these smugglers and these traffickers like nobody would believe. They know it and they know exactly what they're doing," he said, citing no real evidence. He also said that human traffickers are using children as "a ticket to getting into the country" and as "passports."

As is often the case with Trump's statements, it's unclear exactly what he meant or how these alleged human traffickers are supposed to be using these kids. Regardless, it's the latest in a long line of dubious attempts to tie social and political controversies to human trafficking using weak or non-existent evidence.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen echoed the president's hysteria on Monday, saying, "We do not have the luxury of pretending that all individuals coming to this country as a family unit are in fact a family." She also noted that "in the last five months, we have a 314 percent increase in adults and children arriving at the border fraudulently, claiming to be a family unit. This is obviously of concern."

A New York Times article fact-checked Nielsen's remarks and found that "there were 46 cases of fraudulent family claims in the 2017 fiscal year. In just the first five months of the 2018 fiscal year, there were 191 cases." The increase Nielsen cited is correct, but as the Times correctly stated, "those instances make up less than 1 percent of the families apprehended at the border." There may be an issue with fraudulent family claims, but if so the problem is very small in scope, and it has been irresponsibly portrayed by the administration and journalists alike.

In May, Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, responded to a round of stories about the federal government losing track of 1,500 children by declaring that they "deserve to be treated properly, not abused or trafficked." But the full context of the roughly 1,500 lost children has been widely misreported: They were unaccompanied minors who arrived alone at the border, not with parents. Many of them were released to sponsors—typically family members—by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Refugee Resettlement. In some cases, the children appear to have been "lost" when they went off the grid to avoid detection because their sponsors are in the country illegally.

Meanwhile, some right-wing outlets have returned to years-old stories of human trafficking, presumably to prove that the scourge of human trafficking is real, and that non-Republican presidents were complicit in it. The Daily Caller reported earlier this week that "The Obama administration handed off an unknown number of migrant minors into the custody of human traffickers under the assumption that these so-called 'caregivers' were related to the children."

It is technically true that the number is unknown, but the impression the Caller's description leaves is nonetheless misleading. An Associated Press report notes that out of roughly 90,000 children, a few dozen were placed in abusive conditions. Clearly, placing any child in harmful conditions is both sad and negligent. But there was no need for The Daily Caller to pepper their report with "trafficking" buzzwords.

Democrats aren't blameless either. The Keep Families Together Act, introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein on June 7, nods to human trafficking in the text of the bill. But how often are children being brought into the country by human traffickers? Do the politicians sounding off about human trafficking actually have a sense of how widespread and pernicious the problem is, or are they just touting the same talking points that make people think they're doing something?

The lack of good data on the size and scope of the problem hasn't stopped the current administration from calling for draconian responses. In a radio interview on Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions floated the idea of using DNA tests to prove that immigrant children are, in fact, related to their parents. The federal government swabbing mouths or taking hair samples from people attempting to enter the country should sound like a terrible idea to any libertarian. And before that happens, it's worth taking steps to definitively determine the real scope of the alleged problem. Too many recent calls for action to combat human trafficking have been based on flimsy evidence (for example, the false notion that trafficking rises during the Superbowl and the World Cup). We should be very careful before expanding the already considerable power of the federal government to infringe on personal privacy.

Right now, however, we simply don't have reliable data. As Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown wrote back in 2015, "Globally, some 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimates. But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2006 described this figure as 'questionable' due to 'methodological weaknesses, gaps in data, and numerical discrepancies,' including the rather astonishing fact that 'the U.S. government's estimate was developed by one person who did not document all his work.'"

Human trafficking––and by extension, sex trafficking––claims are often trotted out with little evidence and plenty of hyperbole. It may feel good to speak out against what seem like clear and obvious injustices, especially when it comes to the fates of children crossing the southern border. But just as America's obsession with the war on drugs created terrible outcomes for people caught up in the crosshairs, the moral panic over human trafficking, which stems mostly from unsubstantiated claims, will create similarly bad outcomes––in many cases for the same people that politicians say they want to help.

If coercive human trafficking were as prevalent as many politicians claim, their proposed solutions might be slightly more justifiable. But they're not. Trump's hysterical claims won't solve any real problems. They might, however, be used to give the federal government license to expand its already bloated surveillance and law enforcement powers.

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  • Longtorso, Johnny||

  • Cy||

    I like it!

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Trump Is Using the Border Crisis to Stoke Human Trafficking Hysteria

    More like lefty and open border hysteria is 50% hysteria. The other 50% is TDS.

  • OpenBordersLiberal-tarian||

    It must be embarrassing to realize your prediction of a "Red Wave" this November is looking worse all the time. More and more voters are beginning to see the terrifying parallels between Drumpf's America and Nazi Germany. Expect his approval rating to get even lower as the media exposes this regime's crimes against humanity.

    #Resist
    #BlueWave

  • loveconstitution1789||

    MAGA!

  • Z565||

    Michael Cohen is signaling a willingness to turn on Trump. Will you MAGA cultists cry if your dear leader is arrested?

  • damikesc||

    I thought Cohen was an incompetent buffoon. Is he now a soothsaying speaker of truth?

  • Chereth Cutestory maritime aty||

    By law, Trump can't be arrested as a sitting president. He can only be impeached.

  • Fancylad||

    I'm Canadian but what the hell.
    #MAGA!

  • Mark22||

    It must be embarrassing to realize your prediction of a "Red Wave" this November is looking worse all the time.

    As embarrassing as the prediction that Trump would win in 2016!

  • Fancylad||

    Liz needs to write articles like this to prove her bonafides to the Georgetown set. You don't get dinner party invites without them.

  • Cy||

    Illegal invaders got invade!

    I just wish that everyone would understand what a bastion of freedom California is and follow it's shining examples of culture and selective enforcement by their betters.

  • DajjaI||

    Yep. Many people say "Give Trump his wall" in order to assuage the hysteria. But it will only increase. There is no bargaining with these people. They don't actually want to build a wall, they want to not build it. Why? As a pretext for a massive police state: "We can't send them back - the wall isn't built yet you idiot." And "Human trafficking will never be solved until we have a wall." Among many other shenanigans. Or as Andrew Sullivan explains: "massive new funding for detention facilities".

  • Chereth Cutestory maritime aty||

    The only hysteria is from the TDS obsessed media.

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    They're smuggled up until they're kidnapped.

  • ||

    It's only kidnapping if a native or legal immigrant parent or relative takes them across any border without permission/papers. At least, until then, nobody gets charged with a felony kidnapping anyway.

  • $park¥ The Misanthrope||

    Wrong. See the 100 articles published on Reason this week examples of kidnapping.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    He is also pointing out how ridiculous accusations of parent kidnapping are.

    Parents don't kidnap their kids. They remove them from other parent's jurisdiction without agreement. Not kidnapping but not okay either.

  • ||

    As is often the case with Trump's statements, it's unclear exactly what he meant or how these alleged human traffickers are supposed to be using these kids.

    Not that anyone should buy into the human traffic narrative, but "I'm going to limit my imagination to my understanding of Trump's statements." just sounds like a terribly stupid thing to say.

  • AlmightyJB||

    "Human trafficking––and by extension, sex trafficking––claims are often trotted out with little evidence and plenty of hyperbole."

    Which is all is took for 99% of the population to swallow them hook, line, and sinker.

  • Rhywun||

    I guess it's all hands on deck this week. Gee, it would interesting if there was something else to talk about.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Must strike while the children are hot.

  • Rhywun||

    Um...

  • ||

    I don't recall seeing an article from ENB about how these teen and pre-teen migrant girls should be free to sex traffick themselves yet.

  • lulz farmer||

    You should also be free to sell them heroin. This is some very principled libertarian discourse.

  • GILMORE™||

    The only issue any real libertarians care about is ensuring we rapidly grow the population of the undocumented underclass.

    Because it is well known that having 10s of millions of non-citizens produces a myriad of liberty-enhancing benefits for everyone. They certainly don't contribute to demands for expanded police-state powers.

  • Rhywun||

    And it's just a coincidence that the loudest calls for growing that underclass - outside this magazine - are coming from cities and states with a permanent Democratic machine government. Because those guys are all about freedom and natural rights.

  • Rhywun||

    And it's just a coincidence that the loudest calls for growing that underclass - outside this magazine - are coming from cities and states with a permanent Democratic machine government. Because those guys are all about freedom and natural rights.

  • damikesc||

    Well, everybody knows progressives and Libertarians are natural allies.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Until the bill comes...

  • Fancylad||

    Trump's popularity hit 48%, it's a matter of survival for the statists who our brave writers like to hobnob with.

  • General_Tso||

    Sweet Jeebus, another one?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    In case you had not heard that Trump was Hitler.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    "in the last five months, we have a 314 percent increase in adults and children arriving at the border fraudulently, claiming to be a family unit. This is obviously of concern."

    A New York Times article fact-checked Nielsen's remarks and found that "there were 46 cases of fraudulent family claims in the 2017 fiscal year. In just the first five months of the 2018 fiscal year, there were 191 cases."

    Anytime some government official mouths off about an "X% increase in [something really bad]" my bullshit detector goes off. Almost every time that happens, when you look at the absolute numbers, the percentage increase is exactly what they said it was, but it's because the numbers were so small to begin.

  • General_Tso||

    "in the last five days, we have a 314 percent increase in Reason articles hysterically claiming Trump = Hitler, claiming to be a Libertarian unit. This is obviously of concern."

  • No, You're a Towel||

    I would like to know one article where Reason claimed Trump = Hitler. Please. I have seen many of those, but not at Reason.

  • Chereth Cutestory maritime aty||

    Chapman gets pretty close, and says many other things that are equally retarded.

  • TGoodchild||

    Most anything by Welch, Steve "Buttless" Chapsman, etc. I'd suggest you read some Dalmia (sp?) articles, but that would be cruel.

  • Cynical Asshole||

    If coercive human trafficking were as prevalent as many politicians claim, their proposed solutions might be slightly more justifiable. But they're not. Trump's hysterical claims won't solve any real problems. They might, however, be used to give the federal government license to expand its already bloated surveillance and law enforcement powers.

    Look, the war on pot seems to be drawing down, so they've got to find something else to use those "bloated surveillance and law enforcement powers" against. Enter the "Opiod Crisis" and the "War on Human/ Sex Trafficking." What, you thought they'd just go away?

  • JuanQPublic||

    Precisely. They need a new pretext, and apparently, "libertarians" (using that word loosely) are lapping it up.

  • wreckinball||

    Pretext? What? How about just following the law. Who cares why you are crossing the border illegally? I don't. Does the cop care why you are speeding? Hmm let me see you are in a hurry. Who gives a fuck. If you are illegal return to sender.

  • damikesc||

    Reason seems huge on civil disobedience, but without the repurcussions that the practice leads to and, frankly, requires.

  • Merl3noir||

    They had a good long run with the drug war... and they are still trying to breath that one to life. But you forgot terrorism... that's been a great favorite on both sides for a while now. I just wonder how long till the people just plain get tired of being in a constant state of hysteria, and fear of what ever the latest crisis they run up the flag pole.

  • hello.||

    Coming from a publication that literally spent the entire last week literally making a "FOR THE CHILDREN" emotional plea condemnation for stoking hysteria rings just a weeeeeeeeeeeee bit shallow. Maybe you should have considered that before you squandered the scant credibility you had left histrionically shrieking about the brown babies.

  • JuanQPublic||

    The broken families at the border are not an abstract "for the children". It's directly observable, unlike the abstract boogeymen peddled by Sessions, Trumpians and mainline Democrats.

  • wreckinball||

    So the families are broken" because the dumbshit parents cross the border illegally and break the law. Here we'll fix that for you. You can all go back to Mexico together.

  • JuanQPublic||

    The commenter drew a false equivalency between observation of children being detained and using the abstract "for the children" hysteria for political purposes. Your reply both had nothing to do with that comment, nor is it an argument - rather, using a "they broke the law" appeal to authority. Which is, incidentally, the diametric opposite of libertarianism, which doesn't use legality/illegality as basis for reasoning, but rather critiques the law itself.

  • lulz farmer||

    Access to western countries, their people and redistributed wealth is a human right, bro. Didn't you get the memo?

  • wreckinball||

    Dumb fuck Reason article of the day. MS-13 runs the border period. They traffic drugs and people. I personally don;t care as long as they stay in Mexico.

    But you are as naive as shit of you don't realize this is a business.

  • JuanQPublic||

    MS-13 runs the border period. They traffic drugs and people.

    Complete and utter hysteria.

  • VinniUSMC||

    It's amazing when less than 1% is totally acceptable and nothing needs to change, and when less than 0.01% is rage inducing and something must be done NOW. Selective outrage (well, it's not that selective, it's always pointed in the same direction).

  • wreckinball||

    I mean seriously. Who runs the drug business here, gangs. Who runs the prostitution business here, gangs. Same as in Mexico. And guess where there are many more and much more affluent customers for drugs and prostitutes than Mexico. The US.

    I mean Duhhh.

  • wreckinball||

    "Human trafficking––and by extension, sex trafficking––claims are often trotted out with little evidence and plenty of hyperbole."

    I mean I can't help it. WTF? So let me get this straight. Guatemalans and Hondurans who must cross Mexico's southern border, which has a gigantic wall and is heavily guarded and then just stroll across Mexico undetected and show up on our doorstep. I mean they just totally evade detection? Seriously

    And gee which gang has the Mexican politicians in their back pockets. Maybe just maybe they are involved in the "travel service".

    Its takes a special kind of stupid to not see this Reason, retarded journalist affirmative action.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    "I mean they just totally evade detection? Seriously"

    No, if you've read the coverage on this, the Mexican government explicitly and deliberately ignores them as long as they keep moving north.

    If they show signs of stopping and settling down in Mexico then the Mexican authorities will take action.

  • Tony||

    Trump is fucking unhinged is what he is. Sometimes it's hard to tell whether he actually feels the shrill racist horribleness that comes from his weird little mouth hole or whether he's being "canny" as a politician by playing the racial scapegoating card to titillate his moronic cousinfucking supporters. Clearly most of his needs are about feeling loved, but I don't think he's capable of truly faking that amount of bigotry.

  • Chereth Cutestory maritime aty||

    Wow. You really spout a constant stream of unsupported emotional dreck, don't you?

    No wonder everyone here says what a horrible dishonest person you are.

  • lulz farmer||

    Screeching about "racism" and "bigotry" is not an argument. It's you being a lickspittle virtue signaler.

  • JuanQPublic||

    Of course Trump is going to rely on the "human trafficking" hysteria. It's reliable, and embraced by the low-information public on both the right and left. When opponents are flanked like that across the left-right divide, the "for the children" fallback can be dropped on them as the napalm.

  • Greg Q||

    You're right, this is a huge problem that we need to fix

    i know how to fix it, too:

    If you are caught illegally entering the Country, you should not be able to request asylum

    No more family separation. No more family detention. You're caught, and you're sent home. no matter your age, not matter your sob story

    Everyone wins, right?

    Or is this just a bunch of dishonest BS, whose sole goal is try to destroy enforcement of US immigration law?

  • wreckinball||

    Bingo, It can be called the Get Off My Lawn Bill

  • lulz farmer||

    Open borders libertarians want them in, but not in their neighborhoods. It's all so very NIMBY. They want their cheap lawn care and Abuelita to clean for them, but they don't want Juan the MS-13 member inducting their teenage daughter into a prostitution ring or for her to have to go to school with them.

  • JFree||

    If you are caught illegally entering the Country, you should not be able to request asylum

    Hahaha. Of course. So if you and your family's life is ACTUALLY in danger, then you should 'make an appointment' to see someone at the consulate in the town in the country where your life is in danger. Of course, you won't actually be able to make an appointment there because they aren't gonna make an appointment to initiate asylee paperwork since the consulate is not gonna start creating diplomatic incidents by admitting that there are refugees in a country where the US is supporting the elites who are threatening those local families.

    So hey - come back next year. And don't you dare try to flee to where you might live because then we'll bring you right back and we'll NEVER let you pointlessly wait in line again.

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    So if you and your family's life is ACTUALLY in danger

    ...they'd stop in Mexico and apply for asylum there. But because we have the greatest welfare state in the western hemisphere, this is where they go.

    It's now come out that the crying kid on the Time Magazine cover wasn't actually separate from her mother, who applied for asylum and has not only been deported before, but her husband is a middle-class worker. The ginned-up hysteria would all be so hilarious and pathetic if it wasn't so clearly designed to propagandize people into directing their guilt towards demanding open borders.

  • Chereth Cutestory maritime aty||

    Only Mexicans are eligible for US asylum. All the others need to g their nearest neighbor and request it. Per international law.

    And Jfree. I'm guessing you have no idea what you're talking about. Since your ranting doesn't appear to reflect actual procedure for an asylum request.

  • Echospinner||

    So if the same family shows up a the border, walks to the nearest immigration agent and requests asylum in the United States you are OK with that. There is no law against doing so.

    Now what do you think should be done with them. Next step.

  • wreckinball||

    Hand them an asylum application form and tell them we'll get back to them. In the meantime no entry.

  • Rockabilly||

    The government is always in a state of Hysteria

  • John B. Egan||

    I certainly have to agree with Trump on this one issue... It is true! Migrant kids are being subjected to sexual assaults.... In his Kiddie Koncentration Kamps...

    "Detained, Then Violated" - 1,224 Complaints Reveal a Staggering Pattern of Sexual Abuse in Immigration Detention. Half of Those Accused Worked for ICE. https://bit.ly/2qs2avo

    "Trump's Homeland Security Slammed For Ignoring Sexual Assaults In Immigrant Detention Centers" https://bit.ly/2qFRixn

    Trump doesn't care about immigrant kids subjected to assaults.. If he did, he'd fix OUR system... But let's face it.. what do you expect from a guy that grabs women by their pussies, rams his toungue down their throats and was sued by a 14 year old girl?

  • lulz farmer||

    Trump Derangement Syndrome: The Official Post of the Movie of the Game

  • gphx||

    'what do you expect from a guy that grabs women by their pussies, rams his toungue down their throats and was sued by a 14 year old girl?'

    I expect you to use spell check,

  • TeamsterX||

    You should read the actual articles and look at the dates of those complaints. Obama sure did a horrible job didn't he?

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    The only hysteria is that within the media.

  • lulz farmer||

    Cheeto Hitler Notice #335

  • ranrod||

    REASON . com = a site of open borders anarchists

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I still don't understand why they hang among Libertarians either.

    I guess no body else will talk to anarchist at all about their non government fantasies.

    Either that or they want to destroy the Libertarian movement.

  • TGoodchild||

    There are useful idiots of many colors, creeds, and political persuasions.

  • Chereth Cutestory maritime aty||

    When writers and commenters treat adherence to constitutionaly limited government as 'collectivism', you k ow those people aren't libertarians.

  • Merl3noir||

    So my great great grandfather would likely have not been allowed in the country and the family, he came here with would probably have been arrested as traffickers... instead of having a monument built for the work they did establishing a church and helping those in need. My great great grandfather lost his father at 6yo, and lost his mother at 8yo and was taken in by a priest. When the priest and his family moved to the US they brought my great great grandfather with them... he was only 12 at the time that they came to the US. As I understand it the church that the family started here in the US, and some of the charities they founded built a monument to honor their good work. But today they would fail a DNA test for the orphan they brought to the country, and would likely have been charged with human trafficking. Isn't sweeping generalities just so great a way to silence debate.

  • damikesc||

    Given that the Mexico Presidential front-runner is saying that he plans of flooding the US with Mexican immigrants.

    In what way, exactly, is that threat not a vow for invasion?

  • JFree||

    If you can't read Spanish, then stop relying on some lying English media with an agenda to do the translation.

    His exact words or googtranslated are

    that There will be broad economic growth, that is, throughout the country, not only in small islets(maquiladora), as has been happening in the last 30 years. so Mexicans do not need to go to the other side, that they do not have to go and look for their lives on the other side of the border.

    We are not going to rule out the possibility of convincing Donald Trump of his mistaken foreign policy and, in particular, of his contemptuous attitude towards Mexicans. We will be very respectful of the government of the United States, but we will also demand respect for Mexicans. Neither Mexico nor its people will be a piñata of any foreign government.

    He's since expanded on the latter by saying that the Mexican government will no longer continue to do the dirty work of the US or serve the interests of 'foreign neoliberals' - citing both as a main cause of corruption.

    In what way - exactly - is that even remotely a threat of invasion?

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    He's since expanded on the latter by saying that the Mexican government will no longer continue to do the dirty work of the US or serve the interests of 'foreign neoliberals' - citing both as a main cause of corruption.

    Does that mean the US will no longer have to do the dirty work of acting as a safety valve for the country's socialistic mestizos?

  • Chereth Cutestory maritime aty||

    Or take all their undesirables off their hands at our expense, in violation of US laws?

  • gphx||

    Oh, Liz Wolfe is from Austin, the snowflake part of Texas.

  • TGoodchild||

    More fashionable hand-wringing. Schumer's response to GOP attempts to create a legitimate legislative solution is all you need to understand that this is, as usual, partisan politics. Moreover, safe majorities (rightly, imho) consider the problem to lay with the parents who are sending their kids here.

    It's all TDS v6.0. Progressives could care less about the children and the legal and logistical reality of what is going on is obfuscated by talking heads and apoplectic-yet-ignorant celebrities. If was I more inclined to believe in conspiracies, I'd say this is all designed to ensure Trump gets reelected.

  • Chereth Cutestory maritime aty||

    of Course progressives don't care. Tony is a progressive, is there the slightest bit of evidence he cares about anyone other than himself? Unless there are political points to be scored.

  • Mark22||

    Trump Is Using the Border Crisis to Stoke Human Trafficking Hysteria

    Well, at least he is putitng the Human Trafficking Hysteria created by feminists and Democrats to good use.

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