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Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, June 6, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP) Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, June 6, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP)

Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, June 6, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP)

Maria Ramirez Uribe
By Maria Ramirez Uribe June 20, 2024

President Joe Biden’s border policy is not ‘pro-child trafficking,’ despite Donald Trump’s claim

If Your Time is short

  • President Joe Biden’s border policy bars most people from seeking asylum if they entered the U.S. between official border crossings. The policy exempts unaccompanied minors.

  • Human trafficking experts said the policy’s exemption for unaccompanied minors is in line with federal laws to protect children from trafficking. 

  • Many of former President Donald Trump’s own immigration policies included exemptions for unaccompanied minors.

Former President Donald Trump characterized President Joe Biden’s June 4 immigration order limiting asylum as "pro-child trafficking," at a June 6 campaign event in Phoenix. 

Biden’s order "is pro-invasion, pro-child trafficking, pro-women trafficking, pro-human trafficking, pro-drug dealers — and they bring death and destruction into our Country. It's really pro-illegal immigration … ," Trump also posted June 6 on Truth Social.

Trump echoed thoughts from his former senior adviser, Stephen Miller.

The order "exempts child trafficking to ensure trafficked children are delivered to their US destinations," Miller said in a June 4 X post

Biden’s order —  barring most people from claiming asylum if they illegally cross into the U.S. between official border crossings — exempts minors traveling without a parent or legal guardian. But does that exemption make it "pro-child trafficking?"

Human trafficking experts we spoke with said no.

The experts said the exemption is in line with federal laws to protect children from trafficking. They said not exempting children could make them vulnerable to dangers, including trafficking. And they pointed out that many of Trump’s own immigration policies also made exceptions for children coming alone.

However, they also acknowledged that some children could end up in dangerous situations under Biden’s policy because family members are not exempt from the policy, even if they come with minors. 

If families are unable to cross the border together, or have to wait for long stretches in dangerous conditions in Mexico, parents might send their children alone to the U.S. to seek protection, experts said.

But they agreed this didn’t make Biden’s policy "pro child-trafficking."

Biden’s policy "does not impact how the government vets the sponsors of unaccompanied children in immigration custody," said Melissa Adamson, an immigration attorney at National Center for Youth Law, a nonprofit law firm. 

Biden’s policy goal is to reduce the strain on immigration officers who are encountering thousands of migrants daily, the White House said in a policy fact sheet. When the policy is in effect, people cannot apply for asylum between ports of entry. The policy takes effect anytime the weekly average of daily illegal border crossings reaches at least 2,500. (Under U.S. law people have to be physically present in the U.S. to seek asylum, regardless of how they cross.) 

People who secure an appointment with Customs and Border Protection’s CBP One application can still seek asylum at a port of entry. People who are victims of a "severe form of trafficking" are also exempt from the policy. This includes sex or labor trafficking, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says on its website

Why are unaccompanied minors often exempt from border policies? 

Laws and court settlements dictate how the government must handle unaccompanied minors who cross the U.S. border. These cases involving minors are handled differently in order to comply with federal laws that protect children from human trafficking.

"Lawmakers recognized that immigrant children traveling without their parents are a vulnerable group that merits protection," said Chiara Galli, a University of Chicago human development professor. "And that these children should benefit from some added protections that adults who are apprehended at the border do not have."

Some parents pay for smugglers to get their children to the U.S. border. But smuggling and trafficking are not synonymous; not all children who are smuggled are trafficked, experts said.

Human trafficking "centers on exploitation," and human smuggling "centers on transportation," says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In 2008, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. The law requires immigration officials to interview all unaccompanied minors for signs that they may be trafficking victims.

Children who are not from Mexico or Canada cannot be quickly deported and are allowed to stay in the U.S. while they await court hearings. These children are transferred to the custody of U.S. Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement who are tasked with finding and vetting sponsors for the children to live with — often family members in the U.S. 

"If deported back to their home countries, these children risk being separated from parents, abused, and killed by gangs, and if they were deported to another country, they would certainly be vulnerable to trafficking, abuse and worse," Galli said

Different procedures generally apply for children from Mexico and Canada because of the country’s proximity to the U.S. 

Not exempting unaccompanied minors from border policies can lead to legal battles

Policy exceptions for unaccompanied minors can also protect the administration from lawsuits, Galli said, though it doesn’t make the government immune from legal challenges, Galli said. (On June 12, the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups sued the Biden administration over its new policy. The lawsuit did not have to do with exceptions for unaccompanied minors. The ACLU argues the policy violates U.S. asylum law.)

In March 2020, Trump implemented a public health policy to quickly expel people crossing the border illegally. The order didn’t include an exemption for unaccompanied minors. The ACLU and other groups sued the administration, saying in part that the move violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. In November 2020, a district court blocked Trump from expelling unaccompanied minors. 

About 16,000 unaccompanied minors were expelled out of the U.S. under the policy from March 2020 to November 2020, said KFF, a health policy research organization. 

Like Biden, Trump also implemented border policies that exempted unaccompanied minors. For example, the "Remain in Mexico" program required migrants to await their asylum court proceedings in Mexico.

Our ruling

Trump said Biden’s immigration order limiting asylum is "pro-child trafficking."

The order’s exemption for unaccompanied minors is not evidence that the order is "pro-child trafficking," legal experts said.

The exception follows federal laws to protect children from trafficking. The experts said not having the exception would endanger minors and make them more susceptible to trafficking. They pointed out that Trump’s own immigration policies also included the exception. 

We rate Trump’s claim False.

For help related to a case of human trafficking, the National Human Trafficking Hotline is available at 1-888-373-7888 or by email at [email protected]. U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s suspicious activity tip line is 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.

Our Sources

Donald J. Trump, Truth Social post, June 6, 2024

Stephen Miller, post, June 4, 2024

The White House, FACT SHEET: President Biden announces new actions to secure the border, June 4, 2024

Legal Information Institute, 22 U.S. Code § 7102 - Definitions, accessed June 20, 2024

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Victims of Human Trafficking: T Nonimmigrant Status, accessed June 20, 2024

U.S. Congress, H.R.7311 - William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, Dec. 23, 2008

Bipartisan Policy Center, Unaccompanied alien children: a primer, July 21, 2014

CBS News, ACLU and migrant rights groups sue over Biden's asylum crackdown, June 13, 2024

PolitiFact, Title 42 expiration: What's next for migrants applying for asylum at US’ southern border?, May 8, 2023

ACLU, District Court Blocks Trump Administration’s Illegal Border Expulsions, Nov. 18, 2020

KFF, Title 42 and its Impact on Migrant Families, May 26, 2022

Human Rights Watch, US: border program’s huge toll on children, Feb. 4, 2022

Human Rights First, The human impact of anti-asylum policies, accessed June 20, 2024

American Immigration Council, The "Migrant Protection Protocols", Feb. 1, 2024

The New York Times, Alone and Exploited, accessed June 20, 2024

ProPublica, Inside the lives of immigrant teens working dangerous night shifts in suburban factories, Nov. 19, 2020

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Number of migrant kids living with strangers skyrockets in Georgia – a red flag, Feb. 5, 2024

Latin America Research Review, Leaving the devil you hnow: crime victimization, US deterrence policy, and the rmigration decision in Central America, 2018

Human Rights Quarterly, Sacrificing women and immigrants on the altar of regressive politics, Nov. 4, 2019

Journal of Borderland Studies, Wolves in sheep’s clothing? What Central American Unaccompanied Minors Know About Crossing the US-Mexico Border, April 16, 2023

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Human Trafficking and Smuggling, Jan. 16, 2013

Phone interview, Stephanie Canizales, faculty director of the Berkeley Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative, June 14, 2024

Phone interview, Dina Haynes, professor of law and director of the Immigration Law Certificate Program at New England Law Boston, June 12, 2024

Phone interview, Melissa Adamson, attorney at the National Center for Youth Law, June 12, 2024

Email interview, Chiara Galli, assistant professor of comparative human development at the University of Chicago, June 12, 2024

Email interview, Santiago Mueckay, advocacy manager for the Advancing Universal Representation Initiative at the Vera Institute of Justice, June 12, 2024

Email interview, Shaina Aber, executive director at Acacia Center for Justice, June 12, 2024

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President Joe Biden’s border policy is not ‘pro-child trafficking,’ despite Donald Trump’s claim

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