At every IOFA training, we start by exploring the importance of language. We talk about words like the conflation of prostitution and trafficking, victim and survivor, and rescuing and empowering. “Why are we even talking about this?” We spend time exploring the words we use around these issues because they matter.
To paraphrase a bumper sticker, what we think affects what we say, and what we say affects what we do. If we truly want to have the desired effect we purport to work for – empowering survivors to recover from experiences of exploitation so they may live happy, healthy, productive lives of their own choosing –then we need to reflect this mentality through the words we use to discuss it.
News surrounding the crisis at the border has shed light on the dramatic increase of immigrants fleeing their countries of origin. The number of unaccompanied minors has grown from 6,800 between 2004 and 2011 to 13,000 in 2012, and 24,000 in 2013. This year, that number will reach almost 90,000. According to these estimates, the number of unaccompanied young people coming to the United States has increased by more than a 1000 percent in ten years. However, even with the dramatic increase, the unaccompanied minors who have fled their countries of origin only account for 0.15 percent of the foreign population and 0.4 percent of the population of immigrants fleeing from Central America.
Placement with relatives in America does not end the child’s vulnerability to trafficking (Lind, 2014). With the dramatic rise in UAC, there has been increased pressure to get UACs out of shelters and into placement with family members as quickly as possible. The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has stated that they do a home study for only certain categories of UAC, as well as follow up visits for at-risk children (ORR, 2013). This raises concern that a number of placements are not being adequately screened for safety. A similar practice in the 1990s resulted in Chinese immigrants being released to people officials believed were relatives, but turned out to be part of smuggling networks. The smugglers would then extort the immigrants and their families (Lind, 2014). Although it is still too soon to know if the same thing is happening to these UACs, from 2008-2010, 95% of confirmed labor trafficking survivors in the U.S were foreign-born (Banks & Kyckelhahn, 2011).
Since October, nearly 63,000 youth have been apprehended attempting to enter into the United States through the Mexican border (Park, 2014). Since 2011, the number of children from Central America attempting to enter America has doubled each year (UNHCR, 2014). These children, labeled either unaccompanied minors (UAM) or unaccompanied alien children (UAC), are coming to the U.S. primarily from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. They are frequently coming in an attempt to escape poverty, sexual assault, violence from gangs, kidnapping, or murder. This multi-part series will explore the impact of border migration by unaccompanied children and youth on social policy in the U.S.