In US, Concern Over An Increasing Number Of Boy Victims Of Human Trafficking

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, Oct 10, 2023 - 12:35 AM

Authored by Katie Spence via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

When Elijah Muhammad was 12, his parents, members of an unnamed cult headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas, received a call from one of the executive representatives of the group, saying that it was "the will of God" that Mr. Muhammad and his brother begin their "pilgrimage into manhood."

Lugging gallon jugs of water, illegal immigrants thread their way along footpaths just north of the Mexico/Arizona border. (Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times)

His parents agreed and allowed Mr. Muhammad and his brother to travel 600 miles to Kansas City in the back of an 18-wheeler semi-truck.

Once there, Mr. Muhammad began his "pilgrimage" by working a daily shift from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. as a dishwasher in a restaurant owned by the cult. During his limited downtime, Mr. Muhammad lived in a small apartment with "dozens of boys and men."

"One time, I showed up late for work," Mr. Muhammad said during a TEDx talk. "Almost immediately upon walking through the doorway of the small diner, I found myself on the floor bleeding after being hit in the mouth with a Yellow Page[s] phonebook.

"Attempting to stand to my feet, the man began to beat me on the back until I passed out. Acts of violence were not of rare occasion at all."

Mr. Muhammad was the victim of labor trafficking, which the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines as "The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery."

It's also a significantly underreported problem in the United States and is much more prevalent than sex trafficking.

Trafficking, which is exploitation-based, is different from human smuggling, which is transport-based.

Human smuggling is the act of bringing people into the United States involving "deliberate evasion of immigration laws, as well as the unlawful transportation and harboring of noncitizens already in the United States," according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But, smuggling can lead to trafficking, and often does.

Sue Aboul-hosn, the regional human trafficking prevention coordinator for the Florida Department of Children and Families, cited data from a Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) report that looked at data from 2012 to 2018.

She said that 71 percent of trafficked victims are forced into labor, 20 percent are exploited for commercial sex, and nine percent experience both sex and labor trafficking.

But 91 percent of trafficking investigations concern sex trafficking, according to the State Department's Office for Victims of Crime.  Five percent of investigations were labor-related, and four percent were both sex and labor, Ms. Aboul-hosn said during a human trafficking summit in Florida on Oct. 3.

And while sex trafficking of women and girls has received considerable attention, human trafficking of boys is growing significantly. It's now almost identical to the percentage of girls trafficked—girls account for 18 percent of trafficking victims. Boys now account for 17 percent, the DOD's 2023 Trafficking in Person's (TIP) report found.

Labor Trafficking

According to the National Institute of Justice, determining exact numbers for human trafficking is impossible due to the "covert and criminal nature" of the practice.

However, the Global Slavery Index, published by the International Labor Organization (ILO), is considered the most accurate.

In its latest report, the ILO estimated that 49.6 million people are being trafficked globally—with 27.6 million in forced labor and 22 million in forced marriages. Women and girls make up a majority of those in forced marriages.

Within the forced labor category, the ILO reported 17.3 million victims in the private sector, while 6.4 million are being exploited for commercial sex, and 3.9 million are in forced labor imposed by the state.

Of the forced labor victims in the private sector, 11.3 million are men and boys and 6 million are women and girls. In the sexual exploitation industry, 4.9 million victims are women and girls and 1.5 million are men and boys. More than 3.3 million victims of forced labor are children.

Forced labor human trafficking. (Courtesy of The Exodus Road)

The United States doesn't aggregate human trafficking numbers at the national level, "making the true number of cases reported difficult to ascertain," however, the Global Slavery Index estimates suggest that on any given day, 1.1 million people are being trafficked in the United States.

The estimate is based on National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH) data, which separates labor and sex trafficking.

The primary venues for labor trafficking in the United States are domestic work, agriculture and farm work, construction, restaurant and food service, and illicit activity (for example, forcing someone to smuggle drugs or commit other criminal activity), according to the Human Trafficking Hotline.

The organization also found that while a fair amount of reported trafficking cases include U.S. citizens, such as Mr. Muhammad, more than half of reported trafficking cases (1,086 out of 1,741) involve foreign nationals.

California, Texas, and Florida have the highest percent of reported cases at 12.8 percent, 8.8 percent, and 7.5 percent, respectively.

New York came in at a distant fourth with 3.9 percent of reported cases.

The State Department's 2023 trafficking report found that while women and girls still account for approximately 60 percent of identified victims of human trafficking, "the percentage of boys … more than quintupled between 2004 and 2020."

Overlooking Boys

Nearly twice the number of men than women are in forced labor situations, and illegal immigrant men and boys are especially at risk, according to ILO.

"Imagine you woke up in a place where you don't know the culture, you don't know the laws, and you don't know what resources are available and how to access them," said Harold Henry D' Souza, co-founder of Eyes Open International, in the State Department's trafficking report.

"Imagine that you thought you were going to achieve a better life for yourself and your family but find yourself on a floor with no bed. You're working 16 hours a day. Imagine you have no food and no money because someone you trusted took the small amount of money you had 'to keep it safe' and provided you a one-bedroom apartment, then threatened you with arrest and deportation if you didn't continue working without pay," Mr. D'Souza said in the report.

"Perpetrators in America use a variation of four words to silence foreign national victims. Traffickers shout to the victims, 'I will get you 1) arrested, 2) handcuffed, 3) jailed, 4) deported.'"

Illegal immigrants discovered in the bed of a pickup truck in Kinney County, Texas, on June 14, 2021. (Kinney County Sheriff's Office)

Ms. Aboul-hosn said a factor leading to the increased number of trafficked boys in the United States is that once an unaccompanied minor is apprehended at the border, they're placed into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is part of Health and Human Services (HHS).

"Usually, they are intercepted at the border, and they go through ORR, and ORR tries to find them a sponsor who they can go live with while they're going through the process of applying for asylum or refugee status through the court," Ms. Aboul-hosn said.

"And through this process, there's a lot of inadequate screening and supervision of the placement. … There are a lot of good sponsors out there who are doing it for the right reasons, but there's some out there that are really just wanting to exploit the child."

The vast majority of sponsors are family members of the child who are also in the country illegally, according to ORR.

Ms. Aboul-hosn said that in 2022, ORR released 55,960 children to sponsors throughout the United States and only conducted 8,618 home studies.

"So only 15 percent of these kids, when they're placed with a sponsor, had any type of home study or background being done," she said.

Once a trafficker has a child under their control, Ms. Aboul-hosn said they'll keep that kid's money and charge them for things like rent, food, and other "debts."

She said most of the boys being trafficked are traveling to the United States from the Northern Triangle countries of  Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The boys are usually 15 years or older, have no legal documentation, and little education. Most don't speak English and distrust authorities, making them perfect victims for traffickers.

HHS Failures

In 2014, a teenager from Guatemala called his uncle in Florida, begging for help. He said he was being kept against his will and forced to work at an egg farm called Trillium Farms in Ohio. His traffickers told the boy that if he didn't "pay back his debt," they'd "shoot your dad two or three times." His uncle agreed to help and contacted the sheriff in Collier City, Florida.

The resulting investigation by federal prosecutors into Trillium Farms revealed that traffickers had detained approximately 45 people, and at least 10 were victims of trafficking, including eight minors. Four people pleaded guilty to participating in a human trafficking scheme, and one, Pablo Duran Ramirez, admitted that he knew some of the workers were unaccompanied minors, who’d been threatened or coerced. On June 19, 2020, Mr. Ramirez was sentenced to 37 months in prison, and ordered to pay a $67,232 fine. Trillium Farms was not charged in the case.

Former slave Francisco Rodrigues dos Santos demonstrates how he clears brush with his sickle on a piece of land in Monsenhor Gil, Brazil, on April 8, 2015. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In a press release after the sentencing, U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman, said, “Ramirez exploited the desperation of migrant workers and, in some instances, their children for his own personal financial gain."

The other defendants, Ana Angelica Pedro-Juan, of Guatemala, Aroldo Castillo-Serrano, of Guatemala, and Conrado Salgado-Soto, of Mexico, also pled guilty to participating in a labor trafficking scheme. Mr. Castillo-Serrano, the leader of the scheme, was sentenced to 188 months in prison, while Ms. Pedro-Juan, who oversaw the victims in Ohio, was sentenced to 120 months, and Mr. Salgado-Soto, a subcontractor, was sentenced to 51 months.

A separate investigation led by then-Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) found that HHS was responsible for releasing the boys to the traffickers in Ohio.

"We've got these kids. They're here. They're living on our soil, and for us to just, you know, assume someone else is going to take care of them and throw them to the wolves, which is what HHS was doing, is flat out wrong," Mr. Portman said. "I don't care what you think about immigration policy. It's wrong."

During Mr. Portman's committee investigation, HHS told the committee that it had strengthened its procedures regarding children. However, the committee found more than 12 other cases of trafficking related to the Trillion Farms case and reported, "It's impossible to know just how many more victims there are."

Unaccompanied children are transferred to HHS's ORR by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

In fiscal year 2022, DHS referred 128,904 unaccompanied children to ORR.

"Approximately 72 percent of all children referred were over 14 years of age, and 64 percent were boys," HHS reported.

The children were mostly from Guatemala (47 percent), followed by Honduras (29 percent), El Salvador (13 percent), and other countries (11 percent) in fiscal 2022, HHS said.

On Oct. 4, HHS reported that it currently has 10,818 unaccompanied children in its care. The agency noted that the average length of time an unaccompanied child remains in ORR's care is 24 days, but "is working to further reduce length of care in ways that do not jeopardize the safety or welfare of the children."