Leaders of 16 evangelical organizations signed a letter to first daughter and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump Aug. 24, asking her to leverage her influence in the Trump administration to protect unaccompanied migrant children from the dangers of child trafficking.
“As Christians who believe the biblical truth that each human life is made in the image of God and should be treated with dignity, we abhor the crime of human trafficking,” the letter read. “We also acknowledge a particular mandate from God to protect children who are uniquely vulnerable.”
Earlier this month the Justice Department announced more than $35 million in housing assistance grants to nonprofit organizations that aid human trafficking survivors. While announcing the awards, Ivanka Trump called human trafficking “the gravest of human rights violations.”
The signatories asked her to help ensure the provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) are again enforced. Passed in 2008, the TVPRA required that unaccompanied children apprehended at the U.S. border be transferred from the custody of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Signatories explained that the TVPRA ensured migrant children would be placed under temporary care and protected from threats of exploitation.
In March DHS suspended the protections, citing concerns related to COVID-19.
“Instead of being referred to the custody of HHS, which has trained capacity to care for traumatized, vulnerable children, unaccompanied children are being summarily expelled to their countries of origin, sometimes after brief, unregulated stays in hotels,” the leaders wrote.
“These children are returned to situations where, tragically, many are at high risk of trafficking, violence and exploitation. Several of our ministries operate in Central America, addressing the root causes of migration such as violence, poverty and lack of opportunity.”
The leaders said they “believe our government can take appropriate precautions to minimize any public health concerns without disregarding the life-saving protections guaranteed by the TVPRA.”
Briana Stensrud, director of Women of Welcome and one of the leaders that signed the letter, told the Biblical Recorder human trafficking is “inextricably linked” to migration.
“Migrant children are especially vulnerable because vital community protections and family support systems are not present to ensure their safety and well being,” Stensrud said. “Forced migration is usually a dangerous journey where families are dispersed and separated. The infrastructures that would normally protect children are fragile and broken down.
“This appeal for action and recognition of harmful border policies is incredibly important in order to re-engage our care and protection of vulnerable children who are seeking safety in the U.S. Evangelicals are pro-life people. This means migrant heartbeats matter just as preborn heartbeats do. We are compelled to lead on this issue from a Biblical perspective, and we hope the Church will continue to join us.”
Other signatories included Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief; Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Philip Langford, president of International Justice Mission U.S.; and Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.