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Irresponsible to Call DeSantis Migrant Flights Human Trafficking: Advocates

Democrats are calling for a study into whether Florida Governor Ron DeSantis‘ decision to move migrants from Texas to sanctuary cities in blue states constitutes human trafficking. But advocacy groups are cautioning DeSantis’ critics from making any accusations with limited information this in early stages.

DeSantis’ decision to fly about 50 mainly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard the other day is section of a continuing Republican effort to spotlight immigration issues beneath the Biden administration. Within the last five months, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey have bussed a large number of migrants to cities like NEW YORK, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

Democratic officials in Massachusetts, Florida and California have all urged the Justice Department to research DeSantis’ move. Governor Gavin Newsom has described the stunt as “inhumane efforts to utilize kids as political pawns” while Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accused DeSantis and Abbott of committing “crimes against humanity on refugees.” Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also criticized GOP politicians for exacerbating the border situation “to the extent of literally human trafficking.”

DeSantis Migrants Human Trafficking
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Wyndham Hotel on August 19, 2022, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The other day, DeSantis flew about 50 mainly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Marthas Vineyard in order to spotlight immigration issues.Jeff Swensen/Stringer

In a statement made on Thursday, Catherine Chen, CEO of Polaris, the best organization attempting to end sex and labor trafficking in THE UNITED STATES, agreed that migrants were used for political gain. However, she called it “irresponsible” to accuse someone of human trafficking before an intensive investigation. “Lacking any investigation of just what happened before migrants were placed on a plane and unwittingly useful for political gain, it might be irresponsible to accuse anyone of trafficking.”

Within an interview with Newsweek, Chen warned that it is becoming an extremely popular trend among political figures to throw around terms like human trafficking, which she said gets the unintended consequence of “trivializing or erasing survivors’ real, lived experiences.”

“It somehow is becoming fashionable for politicians to accuse one another to be traffickers or pedophiles and so on. That is deeply bad for people who’ve actually survived what’s really terrible harm and abuse,” she said, adding that the political name-calling “betrays just how much harm and exploitation and calculation and stealing of earnings and wages which have happened to trafficking survivors.”

Chen also emphasized that human trafficking is really a federal crime with an obvious legal definition.

“Human trafficking in the usage of force, fraud or coercion to exploit other folks for financial or personal gain,” Chen said in her Thursday statement. “Despite popular misconception, trafficking has nothing in connection with transportation.” As the terms tend to be used together, human trafficking differs from human smuggling, that is the business enterprise of transporting people illegally across a global border.

When applying the criminal definition of human trafficking to the recent events involving asylum seekers, many have centered on the fraud aspect. Several outlets have reported that the migrants who have been flown to Boston by DeSantis have been misled concerning the circumstances of these arrival, including false promises of employment and housing at their destination.

DeSantis has asserted that a few of the allegations have already been “nonsense,” adding on Monday that the migrants “were in really, really bad shape.” “Why wouldn’t they would like to go, given where these were?” he told Fox NewsSean Hannity.

On Tuesday, migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard filed a class action lawsuit against DeSantis along with other Florida officials accusing them of participating in “a premeditated, fraudulent, and illegal scheme devoted to exploiting [them] for the only real reason for advancing their very own personal, financial and political interests.”

Polaris noted these reports echo the experiences that human trafficking victims, specifically among migrants that are often at the mercy of exploitation because of their limited English proficiency and unfamiliarity with U.S. labor and immigration laws. A report conducted by the business between 2018 and 2020 discovered that roughly a third of migrants reported “misrepresentation of destination/work situation” within their trafficking experience.

Chen said, “there exists a case for investigating it as trafficking” if the migrants flown to Massachusetts were defrauded for material gain, “including that of an elected official.”

Her remarks were echoed by former FBI agent Frank Figliuzzi, who said that while he thought there is a violation of law with the recent transportation of migrants, people should still avoid jumping to conclusions of human trafficking.

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

Chen emphasized to Newsweek that human trafficking remains a bipartisan issue and that cases of suffering and exploitation extend beyond party politics. She said that Polaris, which also operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline, treats every report with exactly the same care required in each complex situation.

“We have been not thinking about putting our thumb on the scale for just one political party or another,” she said. “Call it trafficking if it’s actually trafficking. And when it isn’t, stop utilizing the name calling and the labeling as a political football.”

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