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Polaris’s Statement on Recent Immigrant Relocation and Trafficking

Polaris is the leading organization working to end sex and labor trafficking in North America and the longtime operators of the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Catherine Chen is Polaris’s CEO. Her bio is available here. Chen and other Polaris experts are available for interview. Given the number of people commenting on the recent events in Martha’s Vineyard and Washington, D.C. in the context of human trafficking, the following is Catherine’s contribution to the discussion.

“Human trafficking is a complex and dynamic crime,” said Catherine Chen, CEO of Polaris. “Without an investigation of exactly what happened before migrants were put on a plane and unwittingly used for political gain, it would be irresponsible to accuse anyone of trafficking. 

Human trafficking is a federal crime and has a clear legal definition. Human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to exploit other people for financial or personal gain. Despite popular misconception, trafficking has nothing to do with transportation. 

In the context of the events involving migrants transported from Texas and Florida to Martha’s Vineyard and Washington, D.C. Polaris is deeply concerned about reports of fraud. 

Multiple news outlets have reported that migrants who were sent to Martha’s Vineyard were told they were going to be flown to Boston where they had jobs and housing awaiting, or to sanctuary cities because they could ‘get better help there.‘ The Washington Post reported migrants receiving unsigned and erroneous guidance telling them to report their whereabouts to the wrong agency within the Department of Homeland Security. 

These acts of calculated deception were reportedly used to trick migrants onto buses and planes.  Unfortunately, this tactic is one that we know far too well in the anti-trafficking world. Migrants are regularly tricked and defrauded as part of their trafficking experience, with traffickers and exploiters taking advantage of their recent arrival, limited English proficiency, and unfamiliarity with our government systems and labor laws. In a recently released study of 4,000 legal temporary workers in the United States between 2018 to 2020, Polaris found that in 34 percent of cases migrants reported that misrepresentation of destination/work situation was part of their trafficking experience

If migrants were defrauded, and if this fraud was intended as a vehicle for anyone’s material gain including that of an elected official, then there is a case for investigating it as trafficking.” 

“The views expressed in this statement are of Polaris alone and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of the National Human Trafficking Hotline or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.”

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Need help? Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.