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A photo taken from night video provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows smugglers after they dropped two children from the top of border barrier in Santa Teresa, N.M., on March 30, 2021. (AP) A photo taken from night video provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows smugglers after they dropped two children from the top of border barrier in Santa Teresa, N.M., on March 30, 2021. (AP)

A photo taken from night video provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows smugglers after they dropped two children from the top of border barrier in Santa Teresa, N.M., on March 30, 2021. (AP)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy April 6, 2021

Katie Pavlich falsely claims Biden administration is ‘engaging in,’ ‘enabling’ human trafficking

If Your Time is short

  • The Biden administration is not engaged in human trafficking. Experts in immigration and human trafficking rejected the idea that the administration’s policies for handling unaccompanied migrant children at the border are enabling it to take place.

  • Human trafficking and migrant smuggling describe different activities and are not interchangeable.

  • The video Pavlich was responding to on “The Five,” which showed two young children dropped over a fence at the border, was an example of migrant smuggling, experts said.

As new migrant arrivals continue to strain U.S. immigration facilities, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich falsely accused President Joe Biden’s administration of abetting human traffickers.

Speaking on "The Five" about a video that officials said showed smugglers dropping two young children over a fence at the U.S. border with Mexico, Pavlich said April 1:

"Unfortunately, those little girls getting dropped over the fence is probably the least horrific thing that happened to them when they were being smuggled. And the Biden administration is engaging in human trafficking because they are enabling this to happen. And then they are taking these kids and delivering them to unvetted 'sponsors' in the United States. And when that happened under Obama, we found out a lot of those people were actually sex offenders themselves. So, they are enabling, and they are part of this third leg of this human trafficking process from Central America."

Pavlich made similar claims in a March 19 op-ed, writing that the Biden administration’s policy of not expelling unaccompanied children means that the U.S. is "finalizing thousands of criminal transactions and completing human trafficking missions" for smugglers across the border.

But experts in immigration and human trafficking said Pavlich’s statement was inaccurate. 

The Biden administration is not engaging or enabling human trafficking, they agreed. And the video of the two young children showed migrant smuggling, not human trafficking.

"The statement is totally false," said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor with the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

Human trafficking is different from migrant smuggling

The biggest problem with Pavlich’s claim about human trafficking is that "she’s alleging human trafficking when she’s talking about migrant smuggling," Correa-Cabrera said.

The terms are different and not interchangeable. Human trafficking centers on exploitation, while smuggling centers on transportation, according to federal authorities.

Under U.S. law and international protocols, human trafficking is defined according to the act, means and purpose of the crime. It involves the compulsion of a person into any form of labor through the use of force, fraud or coercion, and for the purpose of exploitation, Correa-Cabrera said. Transporting people over a border is not in and of itself an element of human trafficking.

Nothing the Biden administration has done amounts to human trafficking, experts said.

"Using international definitions and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which is what legislates and defines trafficking in the U.S., we have nothing close to that," Correa-Cabrera said. "The government is not recruiting, transporting, transferring or harboring people for the purpose of exploiting them in any form — sexual exploitation, forced labor or anything else — and they are not using force, fraud or coercion to make that exploitation possible." 

Migrant smuggling occurs when smugglers transport migrants across borders for a fee and both parties consent, experts said. Smugglers can put migrants in danger, but it is not the same as trafficking.

"It is self-evident that this is not trafficking, as they (the Biden administration) are releasing the children to be reunited with their families," said David Kyle, associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis. "So this is a very sensational and inaccurate framing of what we are looking at."

In a statement to PolitiFact, the Department of Homeland Security said Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has "repeatedly warned" about abuses by smugglers.

The Biden administration

Experts also rejected Pavlich’s claim that the Biden administration is enabling human trafficking by delivering unaccompanied minors to "unvetted" sponsors rather than swiftly expelling them.

The Biden administration’s decision to take in minors despite the coronavirus pandemic is a change from the Trump administration and a reason for the crowding at the border. But not expelling minors has "nothing" to do with human trafficking, Correa-Cabrera said. She and other experts said such children could be escaping trafficking in their home countries.

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Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, associate professor and the director of the Arizona State University Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research, said that the Biden administration’s process for finding safe guardians for unaccompanied children is on par with past administrations.

"This system has not changed since the last administration, so whatever is being done now was done then as well," she said. "All sponsors are very well vetted, but no system is perfect."

(In 2014, multiple migrant children were passed off to a human trafficking ring in an incident that spawned a congressional report and a criminal indictment, Snopes reported.)

Currently, unaccompanied minors are transferred in the U.S. from Border Patrol to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Roe-Sepowitz said. They are then brought to shelters run by nonprofits, where trained staff work with them to determine who in the U.S. can take custody of them.

"The staff at the shelter spends many, many hours doing criminal checks on possible guardians (usually relatives) to make sure they are not sex offenders or sex traffickers," she said.

It’s possible that the Biden administration’s reception of migrants at the border could lead to more smuggling, experts said. But human trafficking remains a separate issue, and experts noted that a lot of human trafficking in the U.S. involves only U.S. citizens.

The Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization that combats human trafficking, said it’s seen no indication that the border situation has increased calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

A judge’s critique of the Obama administration 

In her op-ed, Pavlich referenced a 2011 court ruling from a federal judge in Texas as evidence in support of her claim. 

In the order, Judge Andrew Hanen criticized the Obama administration over a case in which a mother living illegally in Virginia hired a woman to smuggle her daughter into the U.S.

According to Hanen, Homeland Security officials delivered the daughter to her mother after arresting the smuggler. Hanen wrote that doing so amounted to "completing the mission of the criminal conspiracy," and he described the smuggler several times as a human trafficker.

Pavlich argued that the Biden administration has been doing the same thing by refusing to immediately expel unaccompanied children from the country. 

But neither the Hanen order nor the video of young children at the border fence prove that the Biden administration is "engaging in" or "enabling" human trafficking.

"Are Biden policies unintentionally encouraging smuggling or protecting children by placing them with families?" said Kyle, from the University of California, Davis. "Perhaps all of the above, with several caveats, but definitely not abetting ‘trafficking.’"

Our ruling

Pavlich said, "The Biden administration is engaging in human trafficking because they are enabling this to happen."

The Biden administration is not engaged in human trafficking, and experts rejected the idea that its policies for handling unaccompanied migrant children are enabling it to take place.

Experts said Pavlich was confusing human trafficking — a practice that has a specific definition centered around exploitation — with migrant smuggling, which involves initial consent and crossing an international border. 

The video Pavlich was responding to on "The Five" showed migrant smuggling, not trafficking.

We rate this statement 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

Fox News, "The Five," accessed via Grabien, April 1, 2021

Townhall, "Biden Owns Human Trafficking Inc.," March 19, 2021

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "Human Trafficking 101," accessed April 5, 2021

U.S. Department of Justice, "Human Trafficking," accessed April 5, 2021

CBS News, "Video shows alleged smugglers dropping 2 children over 14-foot border fence into U.S.," April 2, 2021

Snopes, "Did the Obama Administration Place Immigrant Children With Human Traffickers?" June 20, 2018

Newsweek, "Why Are Children Flooding the U.S. Border?" June 10, 2014

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas Brownsville Division, "United States of America vs. Mirtha Veronica Nava-Martinez," Dec. 13, 2013

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

United Nations, "Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime," Nov. 15, 2000

Government Publishing Office, "Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2020," Oct. 28, 2000

PolitiFact, "Graph showing rising human trafficking arrests under Trump draws on bogus data," Aug. 12, 2020

Statement from Fox News, April 5, 2021

Statement from U.S. Department of Homeland Security, April 5, 2021

Statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, April 5, 2021

Statement from the Polaris Project, April 5, 2021

Phone interview with Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, associate professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, April 5, 2021

Email interview with Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Social Work and director of the Arizona State University Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research, April 5, 2021

Email interview with Jennifer Podkul, vice president for policy and advocacy at Kids In Need of Defense, April 5, 2021

Email interview with Bridgette Carr, clinical professor of law and associate dean for strategic initiatives at the University of Michigan Law School and the founding director of the University of Michigan Law School’s Human Trafficking Clinic, April 5, 2021

Email interview with David Kyle, associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Davis, April 5, 2021

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Katie Pavlich falsely claims Biden administration is ‘engaging in,’ ‘enabling’ human trafficking

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