Human Trafficking And The Southern Border

July 4, 2019

NPR’s Sarah McCammon talks with Professor Jamie Gates of Point Loma Nazarene University about the fact and fiction surrounding human trafficking across the Southern U.S. border.


Outrage swelled this past week over humanitarian conditions at the southern border, including over the separation of children from their parents or guardians. The Trump administration has repeatedly pointed to human trafficking, both as a reason for his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and as a justification for separating children from the people they’re traveling with. Here’s President Trump on CBS News in February.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And this really is an invasion of our country by human traffickers. These are people that are horrible people bringing in women mostly but bringing in women and children.

MCCAMMON: To take a closer look at these claims, we’ve called Jamie Gates. He directs the Center for Justice and Reconciliation at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and has spent years studying human trafficking near the U.S.-Mexico border. He joins us now. Welcome, professor Gates.

JAMIE GATES: Thank you, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: What do we know, broadly, about how many survivors of trafficking are being brought across the U.S.-Mexico border?

GATES: So our research shows that the trafficking problem in San Diego County is, by far, more local, domestic than it is across the border. In our study, we found 80% of the survivors, 450 survivors that we interviewed, were born and raised in the United States. And of those 20% that were born outside the United States, very few of them were actually trafficked across the border. We know that trafficking does happen across the border. Unfortunately, people conflate smuggling and trafficking all the time. Human trafficking is very specific to having been forced through fraud or coercion – been brought across the border, not by getting someone’s help to come across the border.

MCCAMMON: As we’ve heard, President Trump and other administration officials have raised the specter of human trafficking as a reason for tightening border security and a defense of the administration’s practice of separating children from the people they’re traveling with. Is that an appropriate way to try to prevent traffickers, specifically, from taking advantage of children?


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