Commentary: Biden’s Shameful Border Legacy in Tennessee Is Human Trafficking

By Jessica M. Vaughan on March 2, 2024

The Tennessee Star, January 31, 2024

Every January, law enforcement agencies and advocacy groups mark National Human Trafficking Prevention Month to focus public attention on this horrific crime and its devastating impact on the victims involved. Once again, the Biden Administration is calling attention to the Department of Homeland Security’s broader “Blue Campaign” to combat human trafficking.

This is a laudable campaign, but it is terribly undermined by the reality that DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas happens to be one of the greatest enablers of human trafficking in U.S. history. The mass migration crisis triggered by the Biden administration’s reckless immigration policies has caused incalculable harm not only to American communities and the integrity of our immigration system but also, tragically, to many of the migrants themselves, who are lured into the clutches of traffickers.

As a result, incidents of border-related human trafficking have exploded, both nationwide and in Tennessee. Law enforcement agencies report a significant spike in incidents of labor and commercial sex trafficking of non-citizens — particularly cases involving minors. Historically high numbers of illegal migrants, enticed by the Biden Administration’s policies, are smuggled across the border by transnational criminal organizations. This is facilitated by government agencies and contractors who funnel them through lenient processing with little vetting and then resettle them, while turning a blind eye to the abuse and exploitation occurring under their watch.

Just last month, Tennessee investigators busted a commercial sex trafficking ring operating out of a Super 8 Motel in Murfreesboro. The accused ringleader, a 50-year-old Venezuelan woman, enslaved women from South and Central America after enticing them into the United States – an enterprise that would be much more difficult without Biden policies that have allowed tens of thousands of migrants from Venezuela and other countries to enter without visas.

From the very beginning of his presidency, President Biden began dismantling a long list of policies that had succeeded in controlling the years-long wave of illegal migrants exploiting our dysfunctional asylum system and court rulings mandating the release of minors and those arriving with minors into the country. Not surprisingly, this has led to an explosion in the number of illegal border crossers, attributed by migrants to Biden’s “invitacion.”

Most problematic are Biden policies that virtually guarantee the release of the unaccompanied minor to a sponsor in the United States. Last year, more than 113,000 such minors were released to a sponsor, including more than 4,500 in Tennessee, with the largest number in Davidson and Shelby counties. Smugglers persuade parents, primarily Central American countries, into sending their children in pursuit of a “better life,” often resulting in forced labor debt bondage in factories and on farms, or worse.

The federal government has lost track of at least 85,000 of these kids, according to government records, but has failed to change policies, much less embark on an effort to rescue these kids from their exploiters. The expectation is that state and local governments will step in to help them, but this is overwhelming state child welfare agencies and law enforcement agencies. A grand jury investigation in Florida recently revealed that every year the state takes into custody about 400 migrant children who ran away from their federally approved sponsors.

To solve the problem, Congress must change the immigration laws and rein in the executive policies that are incentivizing the mass illegal migration of both adults and minors. House Homeland Security Committee chairman Mark Green’s move to impeach DHS Secretary Mayorkas is a justifiable and welcome action to hold the Biden administration accountable for this disastrous situation.

Federal and state lawmakers can do more. We must create an environment where migrants understand that there is no point in contracting with criminal smuggling organizations or labor traffickers, or even attempting to illegally join a family member in the United States, because such illegal entry and employment will not be tolerated and result in being sent home promptly. When immigration enforcement is restored, especially at the workplace, and when state and local officials can work together to disrupt the criminal enterprises that exploit vulnerable migrants, then profits for the smugglers and traffickers will dry up, and the government agencies will have a much greater ability to deal with a far fewer number of exploitation cases.

For their part, state lawmakers should update their anti-smuggling and trafficking laws to impose more penalties on those who profit from the exploitation of migrants – including employers. An expansion of E-Verify and enforcement partnerships with DHS agencies is needed, as are stronger “know-your-customer” laws for financial institutions to address identity theft and the laundering of money payments by the smugglers and traffickers.

Preventing border-related human trafficking requires more than just clever hashtags and federal government platitudes. It requires new leadership and initiative at all levels to reverse the disastrous policies that have enabled the traffickers to flourish without fear of consequences.