Tensions and Trade-Offs: Protecting Trafficking Victims in the Era of Immigration Enforcement

46 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2010

See all articles by Jennifer M. Chacón

Jennifer M. Chacón

University of California, Irvine School of Law; University of Oxford - Border Criminologies

Date Written: 2010


U.S. antitrafficking efforts, like the international efforts to protect trafficking victims, have been important in protecting a small (and growing) number of victims, punishing a small number of traffickers, and, perhaps most importantly, raising awareness about the nature and scope of the international trafficking problem. These advances are worthy of recognition. Nevertheless, it is equally important to acknowledge that antitrafficking efforts in the United States and elsewhere have been heavily constrained by the politics and policies of rigid immigration enforcement. In the end, there is no way to eliminate the scourge of trafficking on the international level as long as cross-border movement is subject to the high degree of regulation and criminalization that characterizes the contemporary global order.

More troubling, some efforts to address the problem of trafficking within the framework of heightened border restrictions have the perhaps unintended effect of reinforcing migrants’ vulnerability to exploitation. This Article seeks to expose some of the tensions and trade-offs between immigration policy choices and antitrafficking efforts. Part I of this Article focuses on the ways in which antitrafficking advocacy and policies can actually fuel the discourse that drives restrictionist immigration policies. Discussions regarding trafficking – including media coverage of trafficking, law enforcement antitrafficking-training efforts, and official statements on trafficking – have played into and compounded stereotypes of migrant criminality.

Part II of this Article explores how growing attention to the trafficking issue (in the United States and internationally) has occurred alongside, and has served as an additional justification for, the increasing reliance on the criminal justice system to manage migration. Section II.A explores the extent to which references to trafficking have been used to justify, among other things, greater law enforcement presence along the U.S.-Mexico border, greater numbers of prosecutors in border districts, and the rapid acceleration of immigration-related prosecutions. This has been the case even though very few of the resulting interdictions and prosecutions ultimately result directly in the protection of trafficking victims and even though the increased policing of the border and criminalization of migration can strengthen the hand of traffickers. Section II.B of this Article explores the development of state antitrafficking statutes and analyzes the extent to which these efforts can be understood as part of the larger trend of states and localities attempting to assert greater legal authority to participate in immigration enforcement.

Keywords: crime, immigration

Suggested Citation

Chacón, Jennifer M., Tensions and Trade-Offs: Protecting Trafficking Victims in the Era of Immigration Enforcement (2010). University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 158, 2010; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2010-19; Criminal Justice, Borders and Citizenship Research Paper No. 1658550. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1658550

Jennifer M. Chacón (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )

401 E. Peltason Dr.
Ste. 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States
530-754-5700 (Phone)

University of Oxford - Border Criminologies ( email )

Manor Road Building
Manor Rd
Oxford, OX1 3UQ
United Kingdom

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