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Human Trafficking and the US Border Crisis

A few of the facts, and what we can do to help.


For a little over a year now, immigration policies at the US-Mexico border have been a flashpoint. The outcry has grown louder in the past few weeks since the New York Times and others reported on the deplorable conditions for children separated from their parents in overcrowded and unsanitary detention centers.

These conditions represent not only a humanitarian concern right now, but the potential for long-lasting consequences that could negatively affect the US and worsen the conditions for our southern neighbors (primarily from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) that drove them to seek refugee status in the first place.

One major concern for any large groups of asylum seekers is their increased vulnerability to human traffickers. We at DoneGood are all in for seeing an end to modern-day slavery (which is why we help people buy from brands whose supply chains are free of it), so we want to share what experts are saying about the potential for human trafficking at the border and what we can all do to help.

Why are asylum seekers more vulnerable to human trafficking?

There are several characteristics that generally make groups of asylum seekers vulnerable to traffickers. In general, individuals seeking refugee status are desperate to leave their situations, but have few resources to help them along the way. They often spend their journeys tired, hungry, and disoriented—in a new place where they often don’t speak the language. 

These conditions make these individuals and families vulnerable to traffickers who may promise them a job, food, and security. It’s not hard to imagine why an asylum seeker—especially one who is fleeing precisely because they want to provide a better, safer life for their family—would take advantage of an offer like this, not knowing that they are being deceived and manipulated. 

How is this happening at the Southern border?

Scenarios like the one above are common to refugee crises in general, but only time will tell what specific issues may play out at the US-Mexico border. Experts are concerned about the vulnerability of families who are forced to wait in Mexico—where conditions are more dangerous and resources to fight human trafficking are fewer—while they wait for their asylum cases to be heard in the US. 

There is also a major concern for the children who are separated from their families. This kind of psychological trauma could understandably make these children even more vulnerable to those who would take advantage of them. The lack of a clear plan to reunite these children with their families makes these concerns even more troubling.

Are traffickers bringing victims into the US across the Southern border?

The current administration states that the reason for tightening border security is that human traffickers are flooding into the country and bringing their victims with them by the thousands. In reality, this particular kind of trafficking is a rare occurrence, a distortion of what human trafficking is, and a conflation with smuggling. Smuggling involves a person who willingly crosses the border—often to seek asylum—and asks for assistance to do it, while human trafficking involves a person forced to cross the border against their will through force, threat, or coercion. 

In reality, only about 34% percent of human trafficking cases in the US involve foreign nationals (as opposed to US citizens), with most of these being brought in through legal ports of entry (often airports) and not illegally across the Southern border. This is still disturbing, of course, but it is a completely separate issue from the current border crisis.

Falsely equating smuggling with human trafficking leads to a misrepresentation of who is coming across the border and why. It stirs up fear concerning incoming migrants and contributes to a lack of urgency to find a humanitarian solution. And with so many asylum seekers detained or in limbo, current border policies are more likely to lead to an increase in human trafficking rather than a decrease.

What can we do?

First of all, it’s really easy to get discouraged and focus on what we can’t do. But don’t fall into that trap; there is so much we can do!

Share your concerns. Call your elected officials to let them know your concerns—not only about the humanitarian crisis that is currently happening at the border but also the potential long-term effects like an increase in human trafficking.

Donate. Give to organizations that are already on the front lines. RAICES is providing legal aid to immigrant families, and we believe in what they’re doing so much that we’re putting our money where our mouth is

Keep Shopping Ethically. Don’t discount the role you’re already playing by shopping ethically! Anytime you buy from a brand that if free of trafficking and child labor, and pays a fair wage to its employees—especially in developing countries—you are helping bring stability to individuals, families, and communities.

Some brands, like Prosperity Candle and Bubu & Lulu Toys, specifically help bring this stability to refugees. Some, like Someone Somewhere and Boutique Mexico, help bring stability to artisans in Mexico. And of course there are hundreds of other brands doing such incredible things to empower people and preserve the planet. You are already a difference maker, so get out there and keep fighting the good fight!


Erin King
DoneGood Contributor

Writer, editor, and all-around language enthusiast who uses her love of words to help others.




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