Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, said he views child trafficking as “the most evil thing,” and another form of slavery.

“Americans need to know that what’s going on in the dark, is the most evil thing that we can ever think of — children being abused and just tossed away like trash — and we’re allowing that to happen,” said Owens, who represents Utah’s 4th District.

He said he thinks Utahns can be “naive” and overlook such operations, leaving them vulnerable.

“I’ve never been in a state like Utah with a culture that cares more about children and we sometimes don’t understand that this true pure evil is out there because we often don’t see it in our neighborhoods,” the Utah congressman said.

This prompted Owens to want to fight back, he added.

Owens and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., introduced the bipartisan Preventing Child Trafficking Act in the House. It has been endorsed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. This bill, Owens said, will fight against a $150 billion industry that “robs children of all their innocence.”

The legislation was first introduced in the Senate by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., in January, during National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Related
Family, finally

In 2021, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received reports of 3,000 potential victims who were children. These are only the reported cases — many remain uncovered, officials say. These traffickers, anyone from members of organized crime to family members or friends, exploit children sexually or force them into labor. The victims face long-lasting effects like depression, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse.

A New York Times report from February 2023 interviewed 100 migrant child workers in 20 states and found they were working dangerous jobs in factories for large American companies.

Federal data suggests more than 137,000 unaccompanied minors entered through the southern border in 2023, and more than 152,000 in 2022.

The proposed law would direct the Department of Justice’s Office of Victims of Crime and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Trafficking in Persons to work together. This collaboration would encourage sharing data and results transparently, said Owens, acknowledging the Beehive State’s success in endeavors that require working with one another.

For him, migrants are at the top o

his mind with the latest bill. “We have no idea where they are. We don’t know how they are being treated,” the Utah representative said. “Any child that lives here should be protected.”

“How is it we have an organization of government that has ... actually lost 85,000 unaccompanied children?” Owens said, referring to migrants under the age of 18, who crossed the border without a parent. According to reports, Health and Human Services lost contact with more than 85,000 children after they were placed with sponsors.

Under the Biden administration, familial DNA testing was done away with, leaving the door open for child exploitation and trafficking as these young people are placed under the care of sponsors who may or may not be related to the child.

During an October 2023 Senate hearing, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, pressed Robin Dunn Marcos, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, on what the agency was doing to find the missing children.

After some back and forth, Lee said, “They’re not lost because you’re not legally responsible to know where any of them are after you place them — yes or no?”

Marcos said her agency isn’t a law enforcement or investigative agency, which Lee quickly responded to and said he doesn’t doubt that, as the Deseret News previously reported.

Related
Sen. Mike Lee asks about the 85,000 migrant children the government has lost contact with

One study cited by The Heritage Foundation estimates that 60% of Latin American children crossing the border alone or alongside a smuggler are sexually abused or involved with drug trafficking.

Owens said the Biden administration should shut down the southern border to curb the problem from growing, but he said the White House refuses to take action on the overwhelming migrant crisis.

“We’re dealing with a process in which the cartels make $32 million per week on one small stretch of this border,” Owens.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office’s 2023 report recommended federal agencies work together. Owens said record keeping needs to be Improved for unaccompanied migrant children to ensure their safety in the homes of people known to them or vetted by the government instead of complete strangers. This will help track down where the lost migrant children are and prevent such situations in the future.

“Understand that we’re talking about children,” he said. “They’re going through some very traumatic times and we’re going to pay a price for that. It’s just that we all know how that works.”

“We need to figure out a way to give these kids their second chance, give them mental health (resources) that they need to make sure they’re in a place to feel safe,” he said.

“We’re adding a lot more stress to our societal structure ... How can we expect to have a productive, free country, a more productive country if we don’t start off with our kids being protected, the way they should be?”

Related
Utah Rep. Burgess Owens says caring for migrant children will cost taxpayers $3 trillion, but will it?