Democrats call for an investigation into whether Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s decision to transport migrants from Texas to refuge cities in the heavenly states constitutes human trafficking. But advocacy groups warn critics of DeSantis against making any accusations with limited information at this early stage.

DeSantis’ decision to fly some 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last week is part of a relentless Republican effort to focus on immigration issues under the Biden administration. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Arizona Governor Doug Ducey have flown thousands of migrants to cities such as New York, Washington, DC and Chicago in the past five months.

Democratic officials in Massachusetts, Florida and California called on the Department of Justice to investigate DeSantis’ moves. Governor Gavin Newsom described the feat as “inhuman attempts to use children as political pawns,” while representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accused DeSantis and Abbott of “crimes against humanity in refugees.” Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also criticized GOP politicians for exacerbating the border situation “to the point of literally human trafficking.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaking at the Wyndham Hotel on August 19, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Last week, DeSantis transported around 50 mostly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard to highlight immigration issues.
Jeff Swensen / Stringer

In statement made on ThursdayCatherine Chen, CEO of Polaris, a leading organization to end s*x and labor trafficking in North America, agreed that migrants are being exploited for political purposes. However, she called it an “irresponsible” accusation of human trafficking prior to a thorough investigation. “Without a careful examination of what happened before the migrants were put on a plane and unwittingly used for political gain, it would be irresponsible to accuse anyone of trafficking in human beings.”

In an interview with NewsweekChen warned that there was an increasing trend among politicians to toss out terms such as human trafficking, which she said has the unintended consequences of “trivializing or erasing the real experiences of survivors.”

“Somehow it has become fashionable for politicians to accuse each other of being traffickers, p*dophiles and the like. This is very detrimental to people who have actually experienced what is truly terrible harm and abuse, “she said, adding that the political name-naming” will reveal how much damage and exploitation, calculation and theft of earnings and earnings has happened to victims of trafficking in human beings. ” .

Chen also stressed that trafficking in human beings is a federal crime with a clear legal definition.

“Human trafficking by force, fraud or coercion to exploit other people for financial or personal gain,” Chen said in her statement on Thursday. “Despite a widespread misconception, human trafficking has nothing to do with transportation.” Although these terms are often used together, human trafficking differs from human smuggling, which is the illegal transport of people across an international border.

In applying the criminal definition of trafficking in human beings to recent incidents involving asylum seekers, many have focused on the fraud aspect. Several facilities reported that migrants who were brought to Boston by DeSantis were misled about the circumstances of their arrival, including false promises of employment and accommodation at their destination.

DeSantis said some of the allegations were “nonsense”, adding on Monday that the migrants “were in really bad shape.” “Why wouldn’t they want to go, considering where they were?” told Sean Hannity of Fox News.

On Tuesday, migrants flew to Martha’s Vineyard filed a class action lawsuit against DeSantis and other Florida officials, accusing them of participating in a “deliberate, fraudulent and illegal scheme focused on exploitation.” [them] solely for the pursuit of one’s own personal, financial and political interests. “

Polaris noted that these reports reflect the experiences of trafficking victims, particularly among migrants, who are often abused because of their limited English proficiency and ignorance of US labor and immigration laws. A survey carried out by the organization in 2018-2020 found that around a third of migrants reported ‘destination / work situation misrepresentation’ as part of their trafficking experience.

Chen said there was “reason to examine this as a trade” if migrants flew into Massachusetts were deceived for material gain, “including an elected official.”

Her remarks were echoed by former FBI agent Frank Figliuzzi, who said that while he believed the recent migrant transport to have broken the law, people should still avoid jumping to conclusions about human trafficking.

“People are still bouncing on the term ‘human trafficking,’ said Figliuzzi on Saturday’s episode of the Dean Obeidallah Show. “Be careful with that. I don’t think it violates the human trafficking statutes, but I absolutely believe it violates the law that says you can’t cross state borders, undocumented migrants, period, end of discussion. “

Chen stressed that … Newsweek that trafficking in human beings remains a cross-party issue and that cases of suffering and exploitation go beyond party politics. She said Polaris, which also operates the National Human Trafficking Helpline, handles each report with the same care as is required in any complex situation.

“We are not interested in putting a thumb on the scale of one or the other political party,” she said. “Let’s call it a trade, if it’s actually a trade. And if it isn’t, stop using name calling and labeling as political football. “

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