05 October, 2008

Smuggling vs. Trafficking

So before the conversation goes much further there needs to be a discussion of the difference between human smuggling and human trafficking.

In one responsibility rests with the smuggled: the person paid someone to take them across international borders and therefore committed a criminal act. In the other responsibility lies with the trafficker: someone who used force and deception to get someone to move for the purpose of exploitation. Definitions in this case are key.

Now, it happens that someone who started off as being smuggled can become a victim of trafficking; but until force, fraud or coercion for the sake of exploitation comes into the mix - they are an illegal migrant.

I spent the morning watching a PBS documentary. It follows the story of five people who are being smuggled - some become trafficked. It is a harrowing look at how international trafficking works and the modes of deceptions traffickers use. It also shows the roadblocks to successfully identifying and helping trafficking victims.

The segment in the airport reveals that border patrol only has 45 seconds to determine if someone is crossing borders for the reason they claim. And they point out that if they interact with someone who is being trafficked before the force/abuse/reality of what is waiting for them has been revealed - then the person is still excited and might not stand out.

Another problem is lack of understanding by local law enforcement. In one story a man has been smuggled across the border of Mexico to the U.S. but then became trafficked for forced labor to a tomato field in Florida. The van, transporting eighteen people, was stopped twice, and neither time did the police realize anything suspicious was going on. A Columbian woman trafficked to Japan ran away to the police station and was clinging to the cop with her traffickers standing outside the door. She was transfered to another station and met with a different cop who helped her. She made the comment that the second cop, "was the only one who did not find the situation funny."

There are laws against being a prostitute, against being an illegal worker, to punish those who have been trafficked - but what about laws against those who bring them here, against those who make them perform "those disgusting acts?" Until laws punish those who traffick instead of those who are the victims - we will always have trafficking. And until those laws have serious bite (not just a fine or a few months in jail) traffickers will continue to exist. When will the reprisal for being a trafficker outweigh the cost of being one
We have, in the countries of origin, a seemingly limitless supply of disadvantaged, impoverished people that are looking to improve their circumstances. We have in the developed countries an seemingly unending demand. In between the two sources is positioned organized crime that puts one with the other.
Demand. As one person noted, "Demand drives the criminal activity." There would be no need to traffick a woman for sex if there wasn't a buyer waiting. There would be no need to traffick someone and force them to pick tomatoes if a true free market existed and the U.S. and others abolished subsidies. Yet, not everyone in this story was a victim.

The people in this video who was not a victim of trafficking was Iraqi who went to Melbourne, and the Chinese man who went to NYC. They paid someone to move them across borders. And while the Chinese man spent four years paying them back, he was not exploited like the woman in Japan or Europe was. He got a job and paid back what was borrowed. And I wish the documentary had done a better job of distinguishing the two.

The woman from Romania, the woman from Columbia, the man from Mexico - they were trafficked and therefore they were victims. The other two men, as awful and tragic as their stories were, choose to take their journey and accept the consequences - come what may. They made a choice, and the others, in the end, did not. And that is what is key about smuggled vs. trafficked: it's the decision from start to end of the person being transported. And until
force, fraud or coercion for the sake of exploitation comes into the mix - they are committing an illegal act.

Now, do the topics of economic opportunity and poverty and the image of America blasted around the world need to come up? Sure. Do any of those factors negate the criminal decision? No.

An interesting quote from the Chinese man was when he said he did not realize how hard it was going to be in America. The reality that we all don't live like celebrities or what is presented in ads, movies, and TV shows had never really entered his mind...

We are all responsible to become more aware of those in our midst who are here by choice or not. We have to ask ourselves why they want to leave there country of origin. None of these people were taken by force - they were not kidnapped or sold outright (though that does happen). They all started off making the choice to leave their home and go somewhere else, somewhere "better."

Slavery exists - and it's happening all around us. And for those of us in the U.S. the quote from the man enslaved to pick tomatoes rings true - we look a the fruit in our supermarket and think how fresh it is and how good it tastes - but we don't considered that someone had to pick it - and, perhaps - they did not have a choice in whether or not they did so.

So what is the difference between smuggling and trafficking? In some cases it is minute, in others the gap is as big as the Grand Canyon - and more needs to be done on all levels to better help those who interact with immigrants tell the difference.