Immigration and Trafficking: Looking Beyond the Controversy

Immigration is a popular topic and often times is controversial. There is much diversity in motivations and modes of immigration and the outcomes that immigrants experience.

People who migrant to the US or other countries in search of work are often times looking for a better life. They are trying to escape deplorable conditions including death, sex trafficking, other forms of violence, and poverty. Often times the stories they hear, especially from smugglers or from potential employers, differ tremendously from the harsh realities that await them on the other side of the border.

People trying to come to the United States often try to get work visas. Unfortunately, these are limited, and are often very hard to get. So, many people decide to cross the border illegally, usually with the help of a “coyote” or smuggler.


Smuggling vs. Trafficking

They pay or promise to pay the smuggler to get them across the border; since they consented, this is not human trafficking. However, individuals who are smuggled are at an increased likelihood of being trafficked for a variety of reasons.

The smugglers often demand more money when they reach the border and the smuggled individuals now owe a debt.

“Farm workers from third-world countries pay several thousand dollars to a recruiter in a foreign country, who helps them secure legal farm work visas to work in the United States. The workers are promised plentiful work for several years in the U.S. When they arrive, their passports are confiscated and they are kept in substandard housing under close supervision. Salary, hours, and conditions are not as they had been promised. Workers are afraid to leave the employer due to threats of arrest, lack of access to their passports, enforced isolation, lack of communication with outsiders, and the need to pay off the large debts they accrued in paying high recruiting fees.”

The North Carolina Task Force Manual

The smugglers (now traffickers) threaten to harm a family member. The traffickers are often well-known to the communities in which people pay to be transported. That is how they gain so much trust.

In addition, the threat of deportation allows the traffickers to maintain control.

Labor Trafficking

“Victims of labor trafficking are not a homogenous group of people—they are represented by all ages and both sexes. Some may enter the country undocumented, while others enter the country legally on work visas for lawful jobs in industries such as domestic services, entertainment, technology, or agricultural work. Scores of unsuspecting victims are forced to work in illegal industries such as the drug and arms trade or panhandling.”

The North Carolina Task Force Manual. A copy of the manual can be accessed here:

Who is at fault?

There are businesses knowingly hiring people who are in the country illegally. These immigrants are paid low wages or no wages, subject to poor working conditions, subject to poor housing conditions, and often times are not free to leave. The anger and the passion to make changes should be directed at the business owners who willfully “employ” [exploit] immigrant workers. If not directly so, it is a branch on the tree that is labor trafficking. These actions allow businesses to make higher profits than businesses that pay workers fair wages and pay the required taxes.

Unfortunately, the general public directs their anger at the immigrants, not the exploiters.

Those of us desiring justice should direct our anger at those businesses and individuals choosing to exploit vulnerable individuals, not those who are seeking a better life for their families.


Migrant Workers and Trafficking

“Migrant farm workers typically move from state to state to plant and harvest crops, roughly following one of three crop “streams” that originate at the southern border of the United States…Trafficking among migrant farm workers is, at times, difficult to detect because migrant farm work in and of itself is not trafficking. Investigators need to look for indicators such as the inability of workers to come and go freely; employers keeping possession of important documents such as passports, visas, and other identification documents; debt owed by workers to crew leaders or farmers; and threats made against victims and their families. Also, victims are often held in a condition of debt bondage where they are forced to work off their smuggling fees and pay their trafficker significant amounts of money. Many farm workers live in housing owned or controlled by the employer, which can lead to a high degree of control over the workers’ movements and activities by the employer. Similar situations may occur in the construction, restaurant, factory, and other low wage industries.”

–The North Carolina Task Force Manual


What Can We Do?

Trafficking education could help prevent more cases and allow the public to know what signs to look for in their communities. Posting of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline ( in more public places could allow victims of labor trafficking to call for help. In addition, we can look for red flags and use the hotline to report tips that may lead to a case of human trafficking. Demanding that businesses be held accountable when they break the law will decrease the demand for workers that are at a higher risk of being exploited. Open discussions, without name calling, are necessary to begin seeing progress that will benefit humanity as a whole. It has been said frequently on this blog, but it will take a conscious effort from all of us to see a cultural shift that will result in the eventual, true eradication of human trafficking. Conscious consumerism will increase the demand for fairly priced goods and decrease the demands for slave labor. See previous post:

Walk Free currently is leading some campaigns to help fight slavery.

Just a few with which you can get involved include:

Call on the Government of Your Country to Ratify C189 to Help End Domestic Slavery:

Pledge to Keep Your Home Slavery Free:

Asking questions and being slow to anger are both important components of educating ourselves, and education is the first step in overcoming the horrible travesty that is human trafficking.

Learn More:

Solidarity Center:

Polaris Project:

For more information on smuggling and trafficking, see Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective by Louise Shelley. A copy of this wonderful resource is available on Amazon.

Hotline Number to Request Help or Report a Tip: 1-888-373-7888


Writing for Freedom,

Kari Carr

“Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.” –Edward Everett


“He who decides a case without hearing the other side, though he decide justly, cannot be considered just.” –Seneca


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