The United Nations estimates that the number of international migrants in the world is over 244 million people as of 2015, nearly two-thirds of whom live in Europe or Asia. The United States is home to approximately 43 million immigrants, making up 13.5 percent of the total US population. While about one quarter of them are from Mexico, you may be surprised to learn that since 2013, the number of immigrants from India and China have both surpassed immigration from Mexico.
Acknowledging Vulnerabilities, Dismantling Stereotypes
At the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking we recognize diverse vulnerable populations that are susceptible to the severe form of exploitation and violence in the form of human trafficking. This recognition is an important step in understanding the complexities of victimization at a societal level. Individuals such as migrants (documented and undocumented), refugees and asylees, people experiencing homelessness, people who have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault, LGBTQIA individuals, children and youth in the child welfare system, women, and individuals with disabilities may all be targeted by traffickers.
Acknowledging these vulnerabilities despite common stereotypes and assumptions allows us to understand the complexities and intersecting identities of people who have been trafficked. For example, myths about labor trafficking of foreign nationals in the United States have included the rationale that forced domestic servitude or inescapable debt bondage are somehow “better” than what opportunities were available in an immigrant’s home country. Stereotypes help to maintain ignorance about the cycle of high debt, unequal power structure, and lack of oversight of employers that keeps people trapped in exploitative labor situations.
Immigrants in Colorado
Colorado has a growing community of immigrants, making up nearly 10 percent of all residents. In 2015, 537,066 immigrants comprised 9.8 percent of the state’s population. Immigrants in Colorado are workers, business owners, taxpayers, and neighbors. They make up a substantial part of the state’s labor force. In 2015, 342,387 immigrant workers comprised 11.8 percent of the labor force in Colorado. The largest shares of Colorado’s immigrant workers were in the following industries:
- Construction (22.6%)
- Administrative & Support; Waste Management; and Remediation Services (20.6%)
- Accommodation and Food Services (15.9%)
- Manufacturing (14.9%)
- Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting (14.1%)
Immigrants to Colorado are a potentially vulnerable population due to a high rate of poverty/economic hardship, language barriers, and in some cases, legal status. Undocumented immigrants in particular are the target of discrimination and anti-immigrant sentiment. Immigrants who are undocumented may be hesitant to contact the authorities if they experience a crime as they may fear deportation, meaning that crimes against people who are undocumented immigrants are underreported. Immigrants on visas to the US are vulnerable as well. Several Colorado forced labor cases have involved workers who entered with legitimate employment-based visas that restrict them to one employer. When they experienced exploitation, they could not leave the employer without risking deportation.
Responding to the Needs of Migrants
By calling asylum seekers and migrants victims of human trafficking, governments can claim that law enforcement efforts and stricter vetting processes are more important than ensuring asylum seekers access and internationally guaranteed protections from persecution. Such language enables the European Union to destroy “traffickers’” boats as a humanitarian act, when in reality the primary objective is to prevent people from migrating irregularly across their borders.
Ulimately, any sustainable response to migration needs to address the drivers of forced and precarious movements of people. These include poverty, food insecurity, armed conflict, natural disasters, climate change and environmental degradation, poor governance, persistent inequalities, and violations of economic, social, civil, political or cultural rights. Strong migration policy demands expanding legal channels for safe migration, family reunification, labor mobility, and educational opportunities for children and adults. It also works to decriminalize irregular migration and normalize the status of undocumented migrants.