A child trafficking expert testified that shelters housing migrant children aren’t screening children for trafficking, during a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Federal Government Surveillance hearing Wednesday.
Lori Cohen, Chief executive officer for Protect All Children from Trafficking (PACT), explained that the shelters were reluctant to conduct such screenings, in response to questions posed by Republican Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz. The southern border has seen a surge in migrant families in recent years, according to federal data.
“We did find it somewhat concerning that shelters indicated a reluctance to ask questions that might be indicators of trafficking. We were visiting shelters that had children with family members, and some of the testimony with her today has indicated that there is a concern of trafficking among those categories as well,” Cohen said.
Border Patrol recorded roughly 52,000 migrant family members crossing the southern border in fiscal year 2020, which increased to more than 451,000 in fiscal year 2021 and more than 482,000 in fiscal year 2022, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Additionally, Border Patrol has already recorded roughly 425,000 migrant family members crossing the southern border in the first ten months of fiscal year 2023.
“And in those shelters we were informed that there was not any screening done on children specifically for indicators of trafficking, because there was a fear of asking questions that might be triggering, that might be a problem problematic for those children, and there are questions that can be asked in a trauma-informed way that could easily assess whether or not the narrative that’s being presented is in fact that the true narrative, the true situation of the child in question,” Cohen said.
Only a handful of the more than 120,000 unaccompanied minors processed by federal authorities were reported to the Office on Trafficking in Persons as mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2022, Cohen testified.
“I think the questioning can be done fairly quickly, there’s certain indicators that might appear immediately that could lead to additional questioning,” Cohen said, adding that her organization is comprised of some individuals who were trafficked across the southern border that have said they didn’t receive any such screenings.
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