Irresponsible to Call DeSantis Migrant Flights Human Trafficking: Proponents

Democrats are calling for an investigation into whether Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to ship migrants from Texas to cities of refuge in blue states constitutes human trafficking. But advocacy groups warn DeSantis critics against making allegations with limited information so early.

DeSantis’ decision to fly about 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last week is part of an ongoing Republican effort to shine a spotlight on immigration issues under the Biden administration. In the past five months, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey have brought thousands of migrants to cities including New York City, Washington, DC and Chicago.

Democratic officials in Massachusetts, Florida and California have all called on the Justice Department to investigate the DeSantis move. Gov. Gavin Newsom has called the stunt an “inhumane effort to use children as political pawns,” while Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accused DeSantis and Abbott of committing “crimes against humanity against refugees.” Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also criticized GOP politicians for exacerbating the border situation “to the point of literally human trafficking.”

DeSantis migrant trafficking
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Wyndham Hotel on August 19, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Last week, DeSantis flew about 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard to raise awareness of immigration issues.
Jeff Swensen/Stringer

In a statement issued Thursday, Catherine Chen, CEO of Polaris, the leading organization working to end sex and labor trafficking in North America, agreed that migrants were being used for political purposes. However, she called it “irresponsible” to accuse someone of human trafficking before a thorough investigation. “Without an investigation into what exactly happened before migrants were put on a plane and unwittingly used for political ends, it would be irresponsible to accuse anyone of human trafficking.”

In conversation with news weekChen warned that it has become an increasingly popular trend among political figures to toss around terms like human trafficking, which she says has the unintended consequence of “trivializing or erasing the real, lived experiences of survivors.”

“It’s kind of become fashionable for politicians to accuse each other of being human traffickers or pedophiles and the like. Calls “betray how much harm and exploitation and calculation and theft of earnings and wages have befallen trafficking survivors.”

Chen also stressed that human trafficking is a federal crime with a clear legal definition.

“Human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to exploit another person for financial or personal gain,” Chen said in her statement Thursday. “Despite popular misconceptions, human trafficking has nothing to do with transportation.” Although the terms are often used together, human trafficking is distinct from human smuggling, which involves illegally transporting people across an international border.

In applying the criminal law definition of human trafficking to recent incidents involving asylum seekers, many have focused on the fraudulent aspect. Several outlets have reported that the migrants flown to Boston by DeSantis were misled about the circumstances of their arrival, including false promises of employment and housing at the destination.

DeSantis has claimed some of the allegations are “nonsense,” adding Monday that the migrants are “in a really, really bad shape.” “Why wouldn’t they want to leave, considering where they’ve been?” he told Sean Hannity of Fox News.

On Tuesday, migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard filed a class-action lawsuit against DeSantis and other Florida officials, accusing them of engaging in “a premeditated, fraudulent and illegal plan focused on exploitation.” [them] for the sole purpose of furthering their own personal, financial and political interests.”

Polaris noted that these reports reflect the experiences of trafficking victims, particularly among migrants, who are often exploited due to their limited English skills and ignorance of U.S. labor and immigration laws. A study conducted by the organization between 2018 and 2020 found that about a third of migrants reported a “misrepresentation of destination/work situation” as part of their trafficking experience.

Chen said if the migrants flown to Massachusetts were scammed for material gain, “including that of an elected official, there is reason to investigate it as human trafficking.”

Her comments were echoed by former FBI agent Frank Figliuzzi, who said that while he believed there was a violation of the law in the recent transports of migrants, people should still avoid jumping to conclusions about human trafficking .

“People keep throwing around the term ‘human trafficking,'” Figliuzzi said on a Saturday episode of The Dean Obeidallah Show. “Be careful with that. I don’t think it violates human trafficking statutes, but I absolutely think it violates a law that says you can’t transport undocumented migrants across state lines, period, end of discussion.”

Chen emphasized this news week that human trafficking remains a bipartisan issue and that cases of suffering and exploitation transcend party politics. She said Polaris, which also operates the national human trafficking hotline, treats each report with the same level of care required in any complex situation.

“We’re not interested in putting our thumbs on the scales for one political party or another,” she said. “Call it human trafficking when it really is human trafficking. Irresponsible to Call DeSantis Migrant Flights Human Trafficking: Proponents

Rick Schindler

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