The Disregarded Victims of Lax Border Policies

open borders victims
Screenshot: Bill Melugin Twitter

By Noelle Fitchett for The Political Insider

More slaves exist today than at any other time in history. Of the nearly 50 million people living in modern slavery, an estimated 28 million live under forced labor. 

America is among the top destination points for child trafficking and exploitation. In America, trafficking ensnares as many as 14,500 to 17,500 undocumented immigrants every year, many of whom are children. While lawmakers in DC hold border concerns hostage over funds for foreign aid, this illegal practice continues to rise. 

Many individuals in opposition to the Texas razor wire policy say that America should embrace migrants, as we are a nation built by immigrants; we should “welcome the foreigner and love our neighbor.” While this sentiment is valid, genuine hospitality encompasses more than simply opening our borders without proper scrutiny, as this could inadvertently subject individuals to exploitative situations such as forced servitude.

The United States has more immigrants than any other country. Immigrants to America account for one-fifth of the world’s immigrants, with more than 40 million living in the U.S. 

Nearly a quarter of immigrants are undocumented — that’s over 10 million people, more than 3x of the population of Los Angeles. 

Immigrant and, specifically, undocumented immigrant status create an easily exploitative demographic. According to a Polaris Project report, between 2015 and 2018, out of 17,000 likely victims whose immigration status was recorded, more than half nearly 52 percent were foreign immigrants to the US. The top three types of trafficking for victims from Latin America are agriculture, Domestic Work, and Construction. Within the agriculture industry, 76% of the likely victims of labor trafficking are immigrants, and nearly half of all likely are from Mexico. In terms of domestic work trafficking, 92% of victims were foreign nationals.

And thousands of them are children. Last year, in a congressional oversight committee hearing, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement failed to answer how the United States Department of Health and Human Services lost over 85,000 migrant children in the past two years.

Thousands of migrant children continue to cross the southern border without their parents, many of whom end up in illegal jobs, including factories, slaughterhouses, industrial dairy farms, and more.

Out of desperation to financially provide for their families and escape poverty, young teenagers and kids as young as 10 leave their homes with smugglers who promise to cross them to the States. In return, the teenagers must pay off their debt to earn their freedom. The debt culminates in transportation and “housing and food” fees, usually unkept and hazardous living environments with little food.

In one of the many stories shared by the New York Times, 13-year-old Nery Cutzal was forced into labor by a sponsor he found on Facebook Messenger. Nery owed more than $4,000 for travel, had no place to live, and continued to amass new debts: $140 for filling out H.H.S. paperwork, $240 for clothes from Walmart, and $45 for a taco dinner.

Migrant children are often made to work over 12 hour days and night shifts and are subject to life-threatening working conditions. They have been yanked into industrial machinery and fallen to their deaths from rooftops.

Child labor was outlawed in 1938 with the passage of The federal child labor provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, yet just last year, migrant children were found packaging for Lucky Charms, Cheetos, Skittles, and McDonald’s.

According to interviews with caseworkers done by the New York Times, two-thirds of all unaccompanied migrant children ended up working full-time.

Arriving in a land of freedom to be placed directly in bondage is the reality for many migrant children and migrants when governments fail to implement solid and broader policies. 

The recently failed bipartisan border bill introduced in congress would have allocated $20.2 billion for “improvements to U.S. border security. Too bad it was tied up with an additional $91 billion in contentious foreign aid funds, not to mention a random $2.72 billion for domestic uranium enrichment. In the end, only 17% of the bill’s allocations would have gone to the border. 

If lawmakers are serious about fixing problems at the border — and all of them should be — they should stop making border funds conditional to foreign aid.

The fact is there’s simply too much disagreement in Congress, and across the country, over foreign aid. Nearly half of Americans believe the U.S. should spend less on aid to Ukraine. In contrast,  nearly 70% of Americans agree that immigration is a positive good. 

Weak borders hurt migrants. When governments neglect to enforce robust border policies, the promise of freedom and opportunity that migrant children and families seek are replaced with the harsh reality of bondage. This is a problem a majority of Americans want to see fixed. Lawmakers should do their part to end slavery in the US.  

Noelle Fitchett, a Young Voices contributor and first-gen college graduate from Los Angeles. She holds a Master’s in Economics from Texas A&M University and a graduate certificate in International Affairs. She earned her Philosophy degree from California State University Fullerton and currently works at Remnant News. Follow her on Twitter: @noellefitchett.