Human Trafficking, Immigration, and Unaccompanied Children: What’s the Connection?

September 1, 2014

In 2011, the federal government filed a human trafficking lawsuit in the largest case of alleged forced labor of farm workers in the United States. 200 men from Thailand had been brought to the United States legally through a worker visa, but were recruited under false pretenses. They were charged exorbitant recruitment fees by their employer and upon arrival had their passports and other documentation confiscated. The workers were not paid for the work and in many cases were constrained to the farm on which they worked. Their living conditions were inhumane, described as cramped, dirty and uninhabitable. At times they were physically abused, including incidents in which company officials slapped a worker in the head and threw a worker against a wall. Additionally, the men were threatened with deportation if they took any action to complain about their working conditions or to seek legal help. The company responsible was successfully found liable for abuse in 2014.

William Wilberforce, the British abolitionist, spent decades of his life fighting for the abolition of slavery, saying, ““Is it not the great end of religion, and, in particular, the glory of Christianity, to extinguish the malignant passions; to curb the violence, to control the appetites, and to smooth the asperities of man; to make us compassionate and kind, and forgiving one to another; to make us good husbands, good fathers, good friends; and to render us active and useful in the discharge of the relative social and civil duties?” Yet, slavery did not end with a re-writing of British laws but has morphed into a more sophisticated and hidden industry. The trafficking industry today is the fastest growing criminal industry in the United States, just behind drug trafficking. While in some cases, like the Thai laborers, the trafficking victims are identified and given protection, many victims of trafficking live in the shadows across many industries, and in many homes, in the United States.

Fighting human trafficking has been a sustained area of focus for many people of faith across the country for good reason. For Christians, the commitment to abolish slavery and human trafficking is driven by our conviction that all human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We believe fundamentally that every human being possesses inherent dignity and the right to freedom. The very sin that is talked about in the Bible (lust, greed, power, and selfishness among others) is what fuels the $32 billion trafficking industry, with half coming from industrialized countries.

In the United States, victims of trafficking come from a wide variety of backgrounds and a diverse pool of gender, racial, religious, and cultural identities, but there is an astonishing common denominator-a large portion of trafficking victims in the United States are immigrants. Thus, a conversation about ending human trafficking in the United States is incomplete without a conversation about immigration. A recent briefing paper released by the Faith Alliance Against Slavery and Trafficking (FAAST) found that 95% of labor trafficking victims in the United States are foreign-born. At least two-thirds of these victims are undocumented. In addition, at least 17% of sex trafficking victims in the United States are non-citizens.

God recognized immigrants as particularly vulnerable, along with widows and orphans, in the Old Testament because they didn’t have family or social structures to care for them. They often faced injustice and were prone to being taken advantage of. God exhorted the Israelites in Leviticus 19:33-34, “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.” In Isaiah 58: 6, the prophet was angry with the Israelites who exploited their workers and describes true fasting “to loose the chain of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.” As followers of Christ, we must seek the abolition of all slavery and promote freedom and justice not just in the darkest corners of the world but even as it happens in our own backyards.

Immigrants are particularly vulnerable to traffickers because they are a population marked by disproportionately lower socio-economic status, limited education, linguistic and cultural unfamiliarity, and fear of law enforcement. Traffickers prey on immigrants in the United States because many immigrants often speak limited English. Traffickers use an immigrant’s lack of legal status to exploit them, saying if they report the abuse to the authorities they will immediately get deported. Such fear often drives immigrants to work in deplorable working conditions, often getting unpaid and abused in the process. The dysfunction in our immigration system, which often makes it impossible to immigrate legally, effectively encourages unlawful behavior and is used as a tool for traffickers to prey upon the vulnerable. This is especially apparent with the increase in unaccompanied minors crossing our border.

Before 2012, the United States received less than 10,000 unaccompanied children per year, but there have been over 50,000 who have arrived in this past year alone.  They come predominantly from the “northern triangle” countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which incidentally according to the 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, are the top three countries from which trafficking victims in the United States come.

The stories of many of these young people are compelling. One Christian service agency focused on immigrant services compiled some of these young people’s stories as follows:

Jesús* is a 17 year old Guatemalan boy who came to the U.S. to escape a drug-trafficking gang who brutally murdered some of his family. When Jesus was 7 years old, his older sister and older brother were kidnapped. The family paid money to the kidnappers but the children were not released. Authorities eventually found the mutilated bodies of his siblings. The group that murdered the siblings started making threats to the rest of his family. Jesus and his younger sister started being intimidated in the community by people they believed to be part of a drug trafficking gang. These threats caused Jesus to decide to flee to the U.S. A child like Jesus might apply for a trafficking visa, special immigrant juvenile status visa, or asylum.

Dominic*, 15 year old boy, fled Guatemala’s gangs.  In Dominic’s neighborhood, a gang tried to recruit him and pressure him into smoking marijuana. His friend told him one day that members of the gang were waiting in a nearby park to physically assault the minor. Dominic immediately made the choice to start his journey to the U.S. A child like Dominic might apply for asylum.

Maria*, a 12 year old girl from Central America was trafficked for labor and sex, she fled with her baby to escape slavery. Maria was 12 years old, when she was kidnapped at gunpoint and taken to a home where she was held captive. She was beaten and raped on an almost daily basis and eventually forced into prostitution. Because of this she became pregnant and gave birth to a girl while captive. Maria fled with her child, riding on top of trains so that they might escape the sexual bondage. Maria ended up qualifying for a T-visa and is currently doing well. She has now graduated high school.

Congress recognized the specific vulnerabilities of youth and included provisions in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims and Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008 to transfer children to the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within 72 hours. This ensures that children who could be fleeing persecution or trafficking are able to present their case before an immigration judge, not a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. A multi-faceted approach is needed that includes the best interest of the child in decision-making, inter-agency collaboration and an investment of resources in effectively addressing root causes of migration from Central America and Mexico.

But more must be done. A broken immigration system has become a trafficker’s best friend. As Congress dithers around immigration reform, opportunities for exploitation, abuse, and trafficking abound. Passing immigration reform is not just good for our economy and national security, but it’s the right thing to do to care for some of the most vulnerable people in our country — victims of trafficking, refugees, and immigrants — who live in constant fear that the protection of the law doesn’t extend to them.

The church also has a choice in its response towards immigrants in our country. The church is the most powerful agent of hope and restoration in our world today. As followers of Jesus, we have a mandate to care for the poor, the suffering, those who are abandoned, and those who are exploited. Awareness about the vulnerabilities of immigrants and human trafficking is needed, but Christians should also extend hospitality to immigrants who are living amongst us.  Holistically responding to the needs of immigrants, including teaching English, helping navigate unfamiliar cities, and just offering basic friendship can make a world of difference. For those impacted by human trafficking, this can also include providing support and healing to victims, preventing situations of trafficking by reducing demand, and supporting and encouraging public policies that may reduce the prevalence of human trafficking and other contemporary versions of slavery.

Joseph, one of the heroes of faith in the Bible, was not only an immigrant but a victim of human trafficking. Sold into slavery by his brothers, he rose to be the second highest rank besides Pharaoh. His migration experience marked his walk with God and placed him in a position where he was eventually able to save the people of Israel from famine.

Scripture is clear that the movement of people are a part of God’s sovereign plan to draw people to Himself. Acts 17:26-27 says that “From one man [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” We have an opportunity to reach the nations for Christ without ever having to leave our neighborhood. But given the stark vulnerabilities of many immigrants, we also have an opportunity to speak out against injustice and ensure our government creates laws that ensure protection for the most vulnerable of our society, as William Wilberforce did.

Immigration may test the bounds of our hospitality and make us feel uncomfortable, but by seeing migration as a greater part of God’s mission in the world, the stranger can be a blessing (Hebrews 13:2) rather than someone to be feared.

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