WASHINGTON—Sandie Morgan was chatting with her Asian manicurist in a nail salon when the woman said she hated her work. Morgan asked why she didn’t change jobs—and the manicurist fell silent.
The woman couldn’t switch her job—she was caught in a debt cycle to human traffickers.
“Understand those kind of red flags,” said Morgan, a professor at Vanguard University and chair of the Faith Alliance Against Slavery and Trafficking (FAAST) university network. “[Human trafficking] is an extremely complex issue.”
Morgan was one of six Christian trafficking experts FAAST joined together Thursday to address solutions to the joint problems of human trafficking and immigration. FAAST is a coalition of Christian groups like the Salvation Army and World Relief that work to inform people about human trafficking. In a report released Wednesday called “Uniquely Vulnerable,” the organization compiled data from its work and from government reports to show how immigrants are often vulnerable to abuse.
The report said many victims have little hope of escape: trapped in a strange land and held in debt, they often work for extremely long hours. Traffickers take advantage of foreigners whether they are documented or not, forcing them into endless work or sex slavery. According to a 2011 Justice Department report about confirmed American trafficking victims, about 95 percent of labor trafficking victims were not born in the United States.
At the end of the report, FAAST released several recommendations for the government to change immigration policy and reduce trafficking. While the group prefers accountability to amnesty, it does think current illegal immigrants should pay to earn legal status. The organization also believes the government should change the visa system to make it harder for traffickers to move people into America legally and to reward those who inform police about criminal activities.
Jenny Yang, the vice president for policy and advocacy at World Relief, said Thursday that the recent issue of illegal unaccompanied minors crossing American borders shows the links between immigration and trafficking. While trying to escape gang violence in their own countries, these children may have made themselves vulnerable to the “coyotes” who smuggled them from their homes—and some of them never may have reached the United States.
Yang also said the government should implement a better screening system for unaccompanied minors who cross the border so officials can determine whether children have been trafficked or not. But she realizes the recent influx of Central American children makes the job difficult—because they are not from Mexico or Canada, American officials can’t put them through a simple deportation process.
“The administration needs a lot more resources,” she said. “It’s been an overwhelming number.”
While FAAST does not work directly with the government, it encourages Christians to suggest legislation to their congressmen and vote for lawmakers who have similar immigration policies.
Sherri Harris, program director for Salvation Army's Orange County program, said Christians should always be on the lookout for the trafficking victims who live among them. Her first case with the Salvation Army involved a young woman who worked as a domestic servant for seven years. The teenager went to church every Sunday, but no one asked her enough questions to figure out she was being abused.
“We have to start looking at our neighbor,” Harris said.