Op-Ed: Illegal immigration is bringing slavery into America

Op-Ed: Illegal immigration is bringing slavery into America

Originally Published in Washington Times on July 5, 2023

There is a very real human cost to open borders: modern-day slavery.

Right now, our southern border is the least secure in history, and Mexican drug cartels are making a killing by taking advantage of migrants on the journey to our country.

Sadly, migrant women and children are often raped, robbed, and forced to smuggle drugs, and those who cannot pay their fee, or “piso,” for passage to the U.S. are trapped in indentured servitude in fear for their own lives or their families.

More than 6 million illegal aliens have crossed our border in the last 27 months. This is human suffering on a massive scale.

This would not be happening if not for the Biden administration’s unlawful open border policies, which continue to encourage millions more migrants to subject themselves to exploitation and make it easier for cartels to generate billions of dollars in smuggling fees.

That said, the physical, emotional and sexual abuse on the journey north is just half of the harrowing reality. The other half is the largely overlooked story of countless migrant children suffering on this side of the border in our own communities.

In February, The New York Times released a bombshell investigation, “Alone and Exploited, Migrant Children Work Brutal Jobs Across the U.S.” It shed light on the lives of migrant children once they reach the border and are released into American communities.

Unbeknownst to many Americans, factories and other job sites around the country are packed with underage migrant children unlawfully working with dangerous machinery for long hours.

Children as young as 12 work as day laborers and in construction. They skip school, lose sleep, and have no families to go home to. In the words of the reporter Hannah Dreier, “This shadow work force extends across industries in every state, flouting child labor laws that have been in place for nearly a century.”

In the past 27 months alone, more than 370,000 children have come to our southern border unlawfully without any parents. In the investigation, a reported two-thirds of these children work in these illegal jobs that carry a high risk of injury or death.

Anyone in their right mind would wonder: How does this happen? As The New York Times’ investigation details, children are released to unvetted “sponsors” who sometimes turn out to be abusive slavers who force them to work to pay off the smuggling debts.

Others are pressured by their families to cross the border alone to work and send money home. They become trapped in indentured servitude when they cannot pay the passage fee to the cartels, and they must work to pay off debts as high as $20,000.

In each of these situations, the open border policies of the Biden administration have made it easier for these bad actors to enslave and harm children. Here’s how.

First, the administration loosened vetting standards for both sponsors and volunteers who take children into their custody when they arrive unlawfully. These sponsors do not even have to complete or pass a background check.

Caseworkers say they “rush through vetting sponsors” and described “many reports of trafficking,” but no consequences for the traffickers. One of the sponsors of a child featured in this investigation stole his paycheck from painting houses every day and watched him sleep on the floor.

Second, the Biden administration has ignored the widespread hiring of illegal immigrants and removed a record-low number of children arriving unaccompanied, which increases the incentive for families to send their children to work across the border illegally.

Third, the Biden administration has not cracked down on the cartels. The open border fuels the cartels’ activities, so the federal government must get smart about stopping them.

Reinstating nationwide “catch and release” has assured millions of migrants, especially children, that when they come to the border, they will be let into American communities with virtually no consequences. As a result, they make the journey north and suffer at the hands of the cartels.

Stopping this historical exploitation of children begins with securing the border and enforcing consequences for unlawful entry, which will give the cartels less business. We must also take on the cartels more directly by imposing harsher penalties on trafficking, smuggling, and other forms of exploitation.

Migrant children should be released only to sponsors who have been thoroughly vetted, and all volunteers working with them must be required to pass a background check. And labor enforcement must be prioritized so that children do not work in these underground, illegal and dangerous jobs.

At the end of the day, the Biden administration has sold a lie to the American people that their policies are compassionate and that we are helping migrants by leaving our borders open. Yet they are silent about the suffering of these vulnerable children and the cruelty of the cartels inflicting harm on all those who attempt to cross our borders.

Millions more will continue to suffer if the Biden administration does not correct course and return to policies that protect vulnerable children and defeat the cartels.

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