A new report from the Center for Immigration Studies examines the role of the 2008 human trafficking law, the William Wiberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, in the ongoing crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. In recent months, there's been a surge of Unaccompanied Alien Children crossing the border illegally, and the Obama Administration claims that the 2008 law prevents it from beginning removal proceedings against any UAC from a noncontiguous country. But the CIS report says that most individuals crossing the border illegally don't fall under the law.

The report concludes that:

  • It appears that a significant majority of children coming across are not “unaccompanied alien children” according to the definition found in federal law. Federal law defines an “unaccompanied alien child” as an illegal alien under the age of 18 who is without “a parent or legal guardian in the United States”. Data from government agencies suggest that the overwhelming majority of minors currently arriving at the U.S. border have family in the United States.
  • There is little evidence to suggest that the recent arrivals are victims of trafficking, which entails coercion. Instead, families and their children are willing participants in smuggling operations, having paid smugglers to bring them into the United States. As ICE explains, “Human trafficking and human smuggling are distinct criminal activities, and the terms are not interchangeable.”
  • Even where the 2008 trafficking act is applicable, provisions within the law allow its application to be limited in “exceptional circumstances” which – as one prominent Democratic senator recently suggested – might include the current border crisis.

“An illegal immigrant who arrives at the U.S. border who is not a victim of trafficking and has family inside the United States should not be benefitting from protections in the 2008 trafficking law,” explained Jon Feere, Legal Policy Analyst at CIS. “Amending trafficking laws should not become a distraction from addressing the bigger problem of lax enforcement of immigration law – and inappropriate application of law – which continues to encourage people to come to the United States illegally.”

The report includes steps that President Obama can take to discourage the current wave of illegal immigration without waiting for new legislation. For more information, see

border control
Illegal Immigration

Updated: Wed, Jul 30th 2014 @ 2:00pm EDT