“The blame for the current crisis at the Southern border should be laid squarely at the feet of President Biden and his administration. President Biden’s failure to control the massive influx of migrants – an influx invited by his lax policies – has opened the floodgates to human trafficking that will have lasting effects on Missouri and the United States and puts our nationally-recognized efforts to fight human trafficking in jeopardy,” said Attorney General Schmitt. “My Office has worked tirelessly with stakeholders, law enforcement agencies, and advocacy groups to root out human trafficking and educate Missouri’s citizenry, but while we take two steps forward in fighting human trafficking, President Biden’s policies take us one step back. With border enforcement agencies stretched thin, it’s time that President Biden reinstate President Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols, quell the crisis at the border, and ensure that Missouri and the United States are able to effectively combat human trafficking.”
Previously, President Trump’s administration enacted a policy called the Migrant Protection Protocols, which applies to aliens who have no legal entitlement to enter the United States but who depart from a third country and transit through Mexico to reach the United States land border.
Before the Migrant Protection Protocols were enacted by the Trump Administration, illegal aliens hoping to gain entry into the United States would attempt to “game” the immigration system by traveling from a third country like Guatemala or Nicaragua through Mexico and claiming asylum in the United States. More often than not, those who made unmeritorious or unsubstantiated claims for asylum were arrested at the border, given a notice to appear, and admitted into the United States. Importantly, the lawsuit notes, “among Northern Triangle aliens who claimed fear and were referred for a Section 1229a proceeding, and whose cases were completed in fiscal year 2018, they filed an asylum application only about 54 percent of the time, and they were granted asylum in only about nine percent of cases. In 38 percent of cases, those aliens did not even appear for immigration proceedings. Before MPP, detention-capacity constraints or court orders forced DHS to release tens of thousands of aliens into the United States, where many disappeared.”
The MPP were adopted in December of 2018 and aimed at reducing one of the key incentives for illegal immigration, which is the ability to stay in the United States during immigration proceedings, even without valid claims to asylum. Through the MPP, which was implemented consistent with non-refoulement principles, the lawsuit states, “If an alien is eligible for MPP and an immigration officer ‘determines’ that MPP should be applied, the alien ‘will be issued a Notice to Appear (NTA) and placed into Section [1229a full] removal proceedings,’ and then ‘transferred to await proceedings in Mexico.’ The alien is directed to return to a port of entry on the appointed date for immigration proceedings.” The Department of Homeland Security worked with the country of Mexico to ensure those who were returned to Mexico to await immigration proceedings would be given the full panoply of rights.
The MPP reduced detention and enforcement burdens significantly for DHS and other agencies. But then, on January 20, 2021, Biden’s Acting Secretary of Homeland Security, in a two-sentence memorandum, issued a directive immediately suspending new enrollments in the MPP indefinitely, pending a further review of the program. The program remains suspended to this day.
The lawsuit argues that this action by President Biden’s administration exacerbates the crisis at the border and allows human smugglers and traffickers to thrive in a multi-billion dollar industry by “gaming” the immigration system, undoubtedly complicating Missouri’s efforts to combat human trafficking.
The lawsuit explains the intersection between illegal immigration and human trafficking, stating, “There is a well-documented and tragic connection between human trafficking in the Midwest and unlawful immigration from the southern border. Indeed, data makes it readily apparent that trafficking on the southern border is a contributing factor to overall rates of human trafficking in the United States—and such cross border human trafficking activity directly affects the overall prevalence of human trafficking within Missouri.”
Alison Phillips, the director of the Attorney General’s Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force stated in a sworn declaration, “For the three years 2017 through 2019, between 9% and 12% of calls made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline for the state of Missouri involved foreign nationals. It is my professional opinion, based on my study of relevant research and my work in the field, that what is reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline are just the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg’… Missouri can be a destination or transit state for many human traffickers. This is mainly due to the state’s substantial transportation infrastructure, major population centers and various aspects of our economy that are reliant on unskilled labor such as agriculture.”
Furthermore, according to news articles and other sources cited in the lawsuit, President Biden’s immigration policies, including the decision to halt MPP, have led to a groundswell in migrant smuggling and human trafficking: “As a former U.S. marshal in El Paso explained, ‘Mexican drug cartels are taking advantage of the recent influx of migrants, using it as an opportunity to ‘make money’ because ‘it’s more cost effective to be involved in human smuggling than it is to be in drug trafficking.’ And ‘human smuggling often also turns into human trafficking’.” As stated in the lawsuit, the National Human Trafficking Hotline describes human trafficking as a form of “‘modern slavery that occurs in every state, including Missouri’” and comes in various forms such as sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and debt bondage.
Tragically, as the lawsuit says, “Recently sources advised that ‘notorious drug gangs … are seizing upon [the Biden Administration’s] reforms to ratchet up human trafficking operations.’”
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office and Missouri Attorney General Schmitt have made it a priority to combat human trafficking across the state. Through the Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office has organized multiple human trafficking operations that led to the rescue of victims and arrests of traffickers. Further, initiatives like the Attorney General’s Hope Initiative have been successful in rooting out and shutting down illicit massage businesses. But, without common-sense immigration reforms and control mechanisms, human trafficking in Missouri will increase.
The lawsuit aims to reverse the Biden administration’s decision to halt the MPP to stop the influx of illegal immigrants and quell the crisis at the border to ensure that Missouri and the United States are able to effectively combat human trafficking.
The suit aims to obtain a preliminary and permanent injunction against the Biden Administration’s halt of the MPP and argues that the action violated the Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act.
A copy of the suit can be found here: https://ago.mo.gov/docs/default-source/press-releases/complaint.pdf?sfvrsn=2b9a9916_2