WASHINGTON – Trying to stomp out modern-day slavery is an ongoing effort to keep the most vulnerable safe when they cross into the United States.
“At this very moment, there are children as young as 11 years old in the United States and abroad who are forced to commit commercial sex acts and other unspeakable acts,” Rep. Madeline Dean (D-PA) said at a recent congressional hearing.
Legislation proposed this week calls on the Biden administration to locate some 85,000 unaccompanied migrant children who are missing in the U.S.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) is concerned that some children not born in the U.S. are left out of the exploitation conversation.
“Some if not many of these children are being forced into trafficking situations for either sex or labor or both,” Smith said.
That’s why he just introduced the SECURE Act of 2023 bill that would require the Biden administration to locate the tens of thousands of unaccompanied migrant children who are unaccounted for in the United States.
Given the serious nature of the situation, Smith wants FBI involvement. Under the proposed legislation, the FBI and the Secretary of Homeland Security would work together and report to Congress on every unaccompanied minor cared for by the Office of Refugee Resettlement since January 1, 2021. That totals at least 345,000 young people.
The bill seeks to penalize federal departments including Homeland Security and the FBI $100,000 for each day the required status report misses its deadline up to $10 million annually until agencies adequately account for the missing children.
Smith is leading congressional hearings this week, where Tim Ballard, a former government agent depicted in the movie Sound of Freedom testified. He spoke about why citizenship status isn’t the most important thing mentioned at a press event.
“What does that unaccompanied child who’s been abandoned, who’s all alone, what does that child deserve? That child deserves to be protected,” Ballard said.
Smith said he hopes the hearings will put more pressure on the White House.
“You’ve got to put partisanship aside and say ‘This is all about children,'” he said. “This is all about them being exploited in the most cruel way imaginable.”
Sex trafficking survivor Jose Lewis Alfaro testified this week that more safety officials need to be trained to treat all victims with empathy.
“Human trafficking is not a gender-based issue, but a human issue,” he said. “We have to identify vulnerabilities and intervene to support all children, no matter their gender, their race, or their sexuality.”