U.S. policies like Title 42 make migrants more vulnerable to smugglers

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The Supreme Court recently upheld the policy of deporting asylum seekers at the border under Title 42 Public Health Authority, as litigation over the issue continues. In response, the Department of Homeland Security said it would continue to deport asylum seekers at the border and work toward expanding the nationalities that can be rejected under the policy.

The pandemic-era Title 42 policy closes ports of entry to asylum seekers and enables quick deportations without the opportunity for entrants to ask for asylum, making immigrants easy targets for smugglers waiting on the other side of the border. “People should not listen to the lies of traffickers who take advantage of vulnerable immigrants and put lives at risk,” DHS warned.

But that’s the reason smugglers put migrants at risk and exploit them in the first place Because Such policies reduce rather than increase the vulnerability of border crossers. Restrictive immigration policies and long-term immigration-deterrence strategies — which study after study shows don’t actually prevent anyone from immigrating — put both child and adult migrants on clandestine entry routes, which lead migrants to turn to smugglers for help. When poor migrants, especially unaccompanied children, cannot afford the high prices of traffickers’ services, they are sometimes forced into forced labor schemes to repay their debts, as in states such as Alabama, Ohio and Illinois.

These human rights dilemmas are not aberrations or exceptions. They are the result of border enforcement schemes that, over decades, have eliminated safe and legal channels for immigration and intensified border policing, leaving migrants vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

After 1965, the US government heavily militarized the US-Mexico border and closed many legal avenues of entry for Latin Americans. The termination of the decades-old guest worker bracero program, the imposition of numerical limits on Latin American immigration, and preferential treatment for refugees fleeing communist countries made unauthorized entry the only option for millions of Mexicans and Central Americans in the late 1960s and beyond.

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A punitive approach to border enforcement pushed migrants into hidden routes of entry and led to an explosion of the human trafficking business between the 1960s and 1980s. By 1975, 70 percent of migrants bought the services of smugglers, transporting them across the increasingly hardened southwestern border. After being recruited in northern Mexican border cities and charging anywhere between $150 and $1,500, smugglers deliver undocumented people to rural agricultural fields in cramped buses, trailers, rental trucks and camper vans without proper ventilation, heat or food.

Poor migrants who cannot afford the rising costs of smuggling services have no choice but to agree to arrangements where smugglers transport them directly to workplaces within the United States, mainly on remote commercial farms where labor law enforcement is almost non-existent, so migrants can work. from their debts. When unscrupulous people employ vulnerable individuals for the purpose of labor exploitation using fraud or coercion, the practice is considered labor trafficking. When it comes to non-citizens, labor trafficking is often carried out through debt bondage, in which desperate migrants are coerced into taking on impossible-to-pay smuggling debts and silenced with the threat of deportation.

In the 1970s those who survived their perilous journey and arrived at their workplaces unscathed were forced to work from dawn to dusk. For these long hours, they received payments ranging from $0 to $40 as their earnings were cut to pay arbitrarily inflated smuggling debts upon their arrival. Migrants were at one time denied food, schooling and medical care. When undocumented workers spoke out against their labor exploitation, they were intimidated into submission through threats of violence and deportation. In 1980, estimates compiled by the Globe and Mail estimated that 100,000 immigrants were victims of labor trafficking in the United States each year.

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By making border crossings more dangerous, US policies created incentives for smuggling. And as the costs of trafficking rise, many migrants are trapped in dire and exploitative working conditions that lead to labor trafficking.

In response, the Border Patrol, state labor inspectors, and local police, especially in the 1970s, cooperated to “protect and protect” aliens by conducting workplace immigration raids from their traffickers and employers. Law enforcement still calls “rescues” the discovery and arrests of forced immigrants harmed by anti-immigration policies.

But after these “protective” raids, immigration officials withheld any wages the migrants received and detained them in detention centers and county jails to serve as “material witnesses” in prosecution cases against their smugglers and traffickers. Although smuggling and smuggling are distinct functions, the federal government combined the two in their quest to deflect responsibility for the exploitation of immigrants.

In the late 1970s, the Immigration and Naturalization Service justified the incarceration of material witnesses of all ages, which sometimes resulted in prolonged separation of minors from their parents, asserting that immigration detention was “necessary for their protection.” But the government had no concern for justice or human rights. Instead, policymakers hoped to blame someone for hiding their own responsibility for immigration harm behind the rhetoric of “defense.”

The injuries caused by harsh border enforcement were exacerbated in the 1990s when the Clinton administration formalized the Border Patrol’s “prevention through deterrence” strategy. This policy is designed to deliberately force migrants into dangerous entry routes, using the desert as a “weapon” against border crossers.

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Although the possibility of death should act as a deterrent, illegal immigration continued in the 1990s and 2000s. This occurred even after the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and subsequent massive investments in United States border surveillance, immigration laws in 1990 and 1996 that dramatically expanded the list of crimes requiring deportation and detention, and the September 11, 2001, attacks brought the newly created DHS to the newly created Department of Terrorism and Immigration. The link allowed for additional funding for border security.

According to historian Adam Goodman, “The increase in border and immigration enforcement did not stop illegal immigration to the United States. However, it made immigration costly in physical and financial terms. With more than 7,000 immigrant deaths recorded at the border since the late 1990s, fiscal year 2022 was the deadliest on record. The Trump years Particularly harmful to immigrants, journalists, lawyers, and researchers argued that human traffickers “thrived” under their immigration policies, especially their Title 42 mandate.

The lesson here is that the multibillion-dollar smuggling industry is enriched, not hindered, by punitive border enforcement. Claims that seek to hold smugglers accountable and regulate illegal immigration not only serve to distance government complicity in the exploitation and abuse of migrants, but also portray politicians as entirely the protagonists of their own humanitarian dilemma.

If the US government truly wants to end human trafficking and eliminate vulnerability to migrant smuggling, it will invest in the flawed and fatal logic of immigration deterrence and open pathways for safe and legal entry that will make it unnecessary for people to turn unscrupulous. Actors in the first place. Until then, US policymakers and others remain responsible and accountable for the harms they face.


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