GUT-WRENCHING: Human Trafficking And The Children Of Central America

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Conchita Sarnoff Executive Director, Alliance to Rescue Victims of Trafficking
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Last week, the State Department warned against separating children from parents at the U.S. border points. The New York Times also reported this action, “can cause lasting psychological damage that leaves them vulnerable to trafficking.” According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “children are always adversely affected by the separation from a parent.”

Whether children are separated at a border entry point or while living at home, separation from a parent causes childhood trauma. As in the case of hundreds of thousands of Central American children forced to separate from their parents at an early age because the parents feel obliged to migrate from their countries to the United States or elsewhere looking for a more secure and prosperous life. Between late 2012 and 2014, more than 80,000 Central American children were separated from their parents as the U.S. Census and other media outlets confirm.

The problem with Central American migration is complex, historical and far reaching. Today, Central American children are in far greater danger of being trafficked for sex, labor and organs while traveling along the 2000-mile journey from Central America to the United States than by being separated from their parents during the processing period at the U.S. border. Mexican children are in the same predicament.

Labor trafficking incidents account for 10 percent of trafficking in Central America according to the United Nations Trafficking of Women & Girls Report. Trafficking of children for sex remains unaccounted. Furthermore, “the market for human trafficking in Guatemala and Mexico seem to be a direct by-product of migrant smuggling. Women and girls headed north find themselves compromised and exploited. Some wind up in exploitative labor – recent studies suggest that labor trafficking may have recently eclipsed sexual exploitation in Mexico. Some are trafficked into begging, especially indigenous girls. Others are subjected to sexual exploitation.”

After interviewing dozens of Central Americans and Mexican citizens in the United States, some documented others undocumented, I learned that most children smuggled to the U.S. are more vulnerable during the treacherous crossing than when they are being processed. An Uber driver from El Salvador, who prefers to remain anonymous, explained that, “In his village and across many towns in his country, families are assaulted on a daily basis by posters falsely declaring easy and free asylum for children to the U.S. The non-official announcements usually claim a “new U.S. law is in place to help children migrate easily and freely to the U.S.” The posters also advise families to call a number and contact person to help them organize the illegal crossing to the United States.” I’m assuming these are not government sponsored announcements, rather the handiwork of clever cartel gangsters luring parents and their children across a sinister journey.

These call-to-action posters have sprung up in villages since 2012. They can be found in almost every town in Central America and are not the exclusive privilege of residents from El Salvador. The posters are haphazardly displayed across hundreds of villages in the interior of Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Given this scenario there are two questions to ask stateside: Why aren’t local governments in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua working together with law enforcement and the military to coordinate best efforts to prevent the mass exodus; Two, why haven’t the four Central American governments created joint public/private partnerships with the United States to help them execute robust anti migratory controls and develop progressive educational and employment programs for their people in country?

Oddly enough, the fake migratory announcements can scarcely be found in the interiors of Costa Rica and Panama, two very popular Central American tourist destinations. Food for thought although the answer seems obvious. A few citizens of El Salvador who recently migrated to the U.S. claim the posters are distributed by the Mara Salvatrucha Cartel, otherwise known as MS, with the support of corrupt local officials and politicians. Perhaps MS is less powerful in Panama and Costa Rica. If the posters are a foil to target unsuspecting citizens and desperate parents, then why aren’t those four governments removing them?

During the interviews with Central American parents and children, who prefer to remain anonymous, I was told that children as young as 7 are instructed to travel solo or in the company of a non-family member to make the illegal crossing to the United States to obtain U.S. citizenship. In the back of my mind I kept thinking, “What type of parent would allow a 7-year-old child to cross a street by themselves let alone walk alone at night? If that scenario is unimaginable to the average U.S. parent then why would a parent allow a 7-year old or perhaps 14-year old teenager do that day and night, for approximately 3 months, while traveling 2000 miles across treacherous terrain? The thought is terrifying.

It seems the United States Congress and President Trump have three viable solutions that require both parties and the White House to stop politicking and start governing. First, extend working and student visas for a finite period of time to undocumented migrants working legally in the U.S. and enrolled at accredited schools. A good congressional reference is Representative Luis Gutierrez’ (D-Ill) 2009 bill sponsoring the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act (CIR-ASAP). The bill never passed and was heavily amended.

However, that bill — CIRASA — gave birth to the DREAM Act and DACA, signed by President Obama as an Executive Order. A new legislation could create a pathway to citizenship for non-criminal undocumented immigrants and improve border security. Two, given the state of emergency, resources and global power of Latin American cartels including MS, the U.S. could invest and create joint private and public educational and employment partnerships for the people of Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua; Lastly, eliminate all cartel driven propaganda infesting Central America and invest in public/private partnerships in those countries.

As Mr. William, von Raab, the former and very wise customs commissioner during the Reagan administration said, if you don’t stop illicit drugs from coming into the U.S. now, (1980-1989), we will surely and have an epidemic very soon.

Hindsight is always 20/20. Three decades later, Mr. von Raab was right on the money.

Conchita Sarnoff is the executive director of the Alliance to Rescue Victims of Trafficking. She is also a research professor at American University.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.