January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Of all the issues we face as a nation and society, the kidnapping and enslaving of our fellow Americans is the gravest. Like the fentanyl crisis, it’s a phantom evil assaulting our communities. We might not notice it, but heinous crimes could be underway around us at any time.
St. Louis often comes up in the news related to human trafficking because of its location in the middle of the country and the convergence of major interstates and highways. Criminals transporting victims often pass through our state and target our neighbors along the way. According to some studies, Missouri has the fourth most cases of any state in America, and 83% of child trafficking victims in the U.S. are Americans. U.S. policy meets the minimum standards to eliminate trafficking, putting our efforts above countries like Mexico and Iran, yet we fall in the top three nations of origin for victims. Clearly, we must do more.
There are a few angles from which we can attack the problem— all of which are critical. We must close the avenues for human traffickers to operate their illicit business. The most obvious solution is closing the southern border. The current administration has repeatedly weakened our security and therefore undermined law enforcement across the country. If we do not have a border, we do not have a sovereign nation, and you cannot expect people to respect law and order.
Additionally, a surge of undocumented workers, skirting rules and laws, clouds the picture and makes it harder to detect forced labor operations. Some Democrats say we should do nothing to police illegal immigration and even celebrate that parts of our economy rely on undocumented labor. Turning a blind eye to the issue, pretending it’s victimless, leaves the door wide open for human trafficking cartels to commit atrocities.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has failed to address the problem and appreciate the severity of the issue. You may have heard the House of Representatives is investigating Sec. Mayorkas for his incompetence and considering impeaching him from his post.
As I discuss often, human trafficking is intertwined with other illicit activities, like drug smuggling, that launder money and funnel it back to the cartels and their foreign supporters. Forced labor and sex work generate $150 billion in illegal revenue each year. Being the driving motivation for these vicious thugs, I’ve made a point to go after their finances and strangle their money laundering schemes.
Last year, I passed legislation out of the Financial Services Committee that cracks down on money laundering and weeds out the criminal operations responsible for the human trafficking and fentanyl crises. As chair of the Subcommittee on National Security, Illicit Finance, and International Financial Institutions and a member of the Task Force to Combat Mexican Drug Cartels, I’ll continue working with my colleagues to identify and close whatever loopholes exist for human trafficking rings.
Equally as important, we need to protect victims. On the local level, if you believe someone could be a victim of human trafficking, you can support law enforcement by calling 911 or contacting the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
Human trafficking is a result of several factors actively deteriorating our society from an open border to a lack of family stability. It will take all of us to fight back, so I hope you’ll share this information with friends and family to spread awareness.