How should Christians work to prevent the exploitation of migrant children?

March 20, 2023

We, who are pro-life, are those that value and seek to protect life at all stages, from conception (womb) to natural death (tomb). And as culture has taken particular aim at the womb and the tomb—preborn children and those nearing life’s end—pro-life efforts have risen to the occasion, advocating tirelessly for these vulnerable populations. In many cases, those efforts have been rewarded with growing support and stronger legislation in recognition of the dignity and rights that these persons, who are made in the image of God, possess. 

But if we’re not careful, this needed emphasis has the potential to avert our eyes entirely from other life and human dignity issues right in front of us, issues like sex trafficking, racial injustice, or the latest example, highlighted in February by Hannah Dreier of The New York Times, the exploitation of children who’ve migrated to the United States. This is an issue from which we can’t look away. 

A bigger problem than we may think

In her investigation, Dreier traveled to seven states, from Alabama to Michigan and Florida to South Dakota, and spoke to more than 100 migrant child workers in 20 states. What she discovered was a problem larger than we may imagine, growing larger by the day. 

“The number of unaccompanied minors entering the United States (by definition, these are not children who have “snuck” into the country undetected, as some may suspect) climbed to a high of 130,000 last year — three times what it was five years earlier,” Dreier writes.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which is “responsible for ensuring sponsors will support [unaccompanied minors] and protect them from trafficking or exploitation,” is being forced to rush through the process of vetting child sponsors in order to move these children quickly out of shelters and release them into the care of adults. While well-intended, HHS caseworkers can’t possibly keep up with the overwhelming demand. And often, these children who’ve entered the country alone, at the risk of their lives, are subjected to gross injustice and exploitation. 

Child exploitation findings and statistics

Dreier’s findings are heart-wrenching. “Indentured servitude,” is what Rick Angstman, a teacher that Dreier interviewed in Grand Rapids, Michigan, called it. Alone and undoubtedly afraid, children are regularly pressured by their sponsors—distant relatives or complete strangers—and their circumstances to seek employment to provide income for themselves and their families back home in their country of origin. 

When asked about the prevalence of the problem, Doug Gilmer, who is head of the Birmingham, Alabama, office of Homeland Security investigations, said, “We’re encountering it here because we’re looking for it here. It’s happening everywhere.” Here are some of the findings that Dreier’s investigation uncovered:

As we can see from the brief list above, child exploitation is not confined to one industry, one part of the country, or one major brand or retailer. It is a problem large in scope and complex in nature. The question before us is: what can we do about it?

What can we do?

The complexity of the problems outlined in Dreier’s reporting is overwhelming. In brief, the unaccompanied children entering the United States are leaving dire and sometimes dangerous circumstances at home, entering a country overwhelmed at its southern border, and, too often, are being placed with sponsors who view them through exploitative lenses. What can we do? Where should we start? The problem feels too big.

As Christians, we wholly oppose the exploitation of anyone, much less children. And as pro-life Christians, we are committed to respecting and protecting the life and dignity of every person, at every stage, and in every condition—born or preborn, male or female, native or immigrant. So, we can at least do what we’ve always done: pray, advocate, and live generously. 

Pray: As I’ve said, the problems revealed by this investigation are complicated. And they’re not new. The exploitation of migrant child workers has been occurring for decades, if not centuries. When assessing the problem, we may feel a bit like Jesus’ disciples after they’d failed to free a young boy from the spirit that was tormenting him (Mark 9:14-29).

“Why could we not cast it out?”, they asked Jesus later (v. 28). Maybe we’re asking him a similar question: “Why can’t we solve this problem?” His answer to his disciples then, I suspect, applies to this problem now. “This kind cannot be driven out”—this problem cannot be solved—”by anything but prayer” (v. 29). The problem before us will not be solved unless the people of God pray.

Advocate: Prayer is where we begin, and it’s something we are to do epeatedly. But it’s not all we’re called to do. One of the privileges of living in this country is that we have the opportunity to pair our prayers with political action.

Christians in America have a long track record of exercising our rights on behalf of others, from the Civil Rights movement to the preborn to immigration issues related to this one. And this issue is deserving of all our political energies, whether it be writing letters to our elected representatives, organizing marches, or simply reading and sharing articles like this one. However we choose to engage, Steven Garber’s haunting question hovers before us all: “Knowing what you know, what will you do?” 

Live generously: So much of the plight these children face has financial roots. They leave their homes and families seeking relief from the severe financial constraints they face in their native countries. On the brink of starvation and homelessness, parents are sending their children alone to cross our border and find work. Can you imagine?

So, for the children in our communities who have left their country, their home, and their family, in what ways can we be generous toward them with our time, our attention, and, yes, our finances? As beneficiaries of God’s generosity, here’s an opportunity for us to show generosity to others who desperately need it.

The pro-life community is not shy in voicing our commitment to life the moment of conception to the time of natural death. We have worked for centuries on behalf of preborn children in the womb. We’ve, likewise, expended great effort on behalf of those nearing death. Today, an additional task is before us. What will we do to make sure these children are treated with dignity? They’re our neighbors; our faith demands that we seek their good. Knowing what we know, what will we do?

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies. Jordan is a graduate of … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24