Why we need the political will to combat the trafficking of migrants

To combat the transnational human trafficking of migrants in the U.S, the traditional 4P Paradigm—preventing trafficking, protecting and assisting victims, investigating and prosecuting trafficking crimes, and partnering with national, regional, and global stakeholders—is still the best path forward. However, much remains to be done to make this strategy more effective.

Reestablishing the rule of law in Mexico and the Northern Triangle should be the priority. That will stem the flow of migrants coming to the U.S. (making them less vulnerable to human traffickers) and prevent human trafficking networks and transnational criminal organizations from operating in the region with impunity.

Several proposals have been floated around to achieve this goal, including sending the U.S. military into Mexico to fight the cartels and designating the cartels as foreign terrorist organizations. While these are viable options if conditions on the ground do not improve, there is something else that the U.S. can do to help these countries strengthen the rule of law.

The U.S. can advocate and support the establishment of international bodies against corruption and impunity in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, as well as pressure El Salvador to let the anti-corruption organization already there operate without political interference.

Such bodies have been relatively successful in the region in the past. The United Nations’ International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the Organization of American States (OAS) sponsored Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH), for example, investigated and prosecuted corruption cases, as well as exposed malpractices taking places at the highest levels of government. However, both were also often hamstrung in each country by the political establishment, and eventually shut down.

The U.S. should leverage its financial ability to guarantee that these countries fully accept such bodies and do not get in the way of them doing their jobs.

Nevertheless, while violence and corruption in Mexico and the Northern Triangle need to be addressed to combat the trafficking of migrants, our own country also has to take responsibility for its institutional deficiencies and poor policy choices that essentially allow traffickers to take advantage of migrants in the U.S.

The Migration Protection Protocols—through which non-Mexicans attempting to enter the U.S. are returned to Mexico to wait for their immigration proceedings—and the asylum cooperation agreements with the Northern Triangle countries have been effective in reducing the number of migrants coming to the United States. But they are not long-term solutions, since Northern Mexico and the Northern Triangle are not safe places. For example, there have been over 800 reported cases of crimes against migrants under MPP—with around 200 of them involving the abduction of children.

Accordingly, even though these measures have succeeded in reducing the magnitude of the border crisis, they still make vulnerable asylum seekers susceptible to criminals. So it is time for us to adjust our domestic, institutional deficiencies.

Sanctuary policies, through which local jurisdictions refuse to collaborate with federal immigration agencies once an illegal alien is in the custody of local law enforcement, disrupt operations to dismantle criminal organizations that are largely composed of illegal aliens.

These practices have a direct, negative impact on combatting transnational human trafficking, since the FBI has indicated that most of the defendants of human trafficking cases have prior criminal records and are prone to traffic again.

Let us use this National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month as a source of motivation to come together and have the political will to combat the transnational human trafficking of migrants head-on. If nothing is done, countless victims are never going to get the help they need, and traffickers will not get the punishment they deserve.

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