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Exploring the Link Between Open Borders and Human Trafficking: A Critical Analysis

a war time picture that focuses on a child's face

The Ethical Implications of Open Borders 

This article touches on the controversial topic of how an open border can contribute to the problem of human trafficking.

Every day, individuals of all ages and genders across the globe fall victim to the horrors of human trafficking. This inhumane war against basic human rights necessitates a united global endeavor to combat it effectively. Global problems need global solutions.

Empowering individuals through heightened awareness, education and prevention is paramount in the ongoing battle of human trafficking. Despite the box-office success of the controversial film “Sound of Freedom'' in its efforts to raise global awareness about child trafficking, the prevalence of individuals falling victim to this illicit practice continues to rise. The latest Global Estimates report shows that around “28 million people are forced into labor, and another 22 million are trapped in forced marriages" (IOM, ILO and Walk Free, 2022). More must be done to unite the world on this front against trafficking. 

Why is Human Trafficking Getting Worse?

Even though a temporary dip was reported in the number of victims detected globally during the early days of the pandemic (United Nations publication, Sales no.: E.23.IV.1), global alarm bells are once again ringing due to the recent rise in victims. In fact, “the number of people in modern slavery has risen significantly in the last few years. 10 million more people were in modern slavery in 2021 compared to 2016 global estimates.” Who ranks as the most vulnerable? You guessed it—women and children are by far the most victimized. Females represent 96% of victims trafficked for sexual exploitation, and more than two-thirds of those forced into marriage are female (nearly three-quarters are below the age of fifteen). Furthermore, forced labor enslaves over 3 million children, and gut-wrenchingly, more than half of those children are victims of commercial sexual exploitation (50 Million People Worldwide in Modern Slavery, 2022).

Over the past few years the world has experienced a combination of compounding crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and armed conflicts, which has led to significant disruptions in employment and education. This has resulted in a rise in extreme poverty, forced and unsafe migration, and an increase in gender-based violence reports. These factors collectively contribute to an elevated risk of various forms of modern slavery (Global Estimates of Modern Slavery 2022 | Walk Free, n.d.).

Could 'open borders' also be a significant contributing factor in this sudden rise in victims?

a metal post with stickers including an open borders now sticker

Open Borders

The concept of 'open borders' was coined in reference to allowing people to move freely between countries with little or no restrictions. In an ideal world, the concept of an open border has a plethora of positives, but recent research indicates that easing up on restrictions can usher in catastrophic problems.

Human Trafficking and Open Borders 

The intersection of human trafficking and open borders is a critical issue that urgently needs to be addressed. Loosening up on border controls can pave a much easier pathway for traffickers to transport victims across international lines and exploit them across various industries. Moreover, these lax regulations can make it even more difficult for law enforcement to detect and prevent modern-day slavery.

To back up this concern, let's consider the current situation arising in North America. The United States’ current 'open-border' policies have been criticized by many for fueling what was described during the U.S. Senate Republican Conference as “the worst border crisis in American history”. Politico's 'Top Line Points' taken from said conference state that the current “administration’s open border policies are fueling criminal activity and abuses by cartels facilitating illegal border crossings” and that "according to a 2020 report from Doctors Without Borders, over 57% of interviewed migrants and asylum seekers (attempting to cross the Southern border illegally) experienced some type of violence,including cases of assault, extortion, torture, and sexual assault ” (Biden’s Border Crisis Is The Worst In American History, n.d.).

Hannah Davis, a former research assistant for border security and immigration, wrote in her March 2023 commentary on immigration that human trafficking saw a significant increase in the past fiscal year, with a 50% rise in arrests and an 80% surge in convictions. It was reported that the majority, 72%, of individuals trafficked in the U.S. are immigrants, predominantly illegal immigrants. Furthermore, it is estimated that 60% of alien children who are unaccompanied are caught by cartels and exploited through child pornography and drug trafficking (Davis, n.d.).

In response to these growing border concerns, US President Joe Biden, during a speech from the Roosevelt Room, emphasized the need for comprehensive immigration reform and acknowledged the need for better management at the border (House, W. 2023, January 5).

With facts indicating that migrants face a higher likelihood of being forced into human slavery than any other group, the concept of 'open borders’ hoists a major red flag for those wishing to see an end to human trafficking (Migration and Trafficking | Anti-Slavery International, 2024).

Secure Borders vs. Open Borders in the Context of AI Utilization for Human Trafficking

Today’s advancement of technology may be trending, but when these advanced tools fall into the wrong hands, they can be a deadly, double-edged sword. Optimistically, within the scope of secure borders, AI technologies for surveillance, biometric analysis, and tracking have the potential to become a ground-breaking asset to border control and law enforcement agencies in the war on human trafficking.

On the darker side of reality, open borders allow traffickers to exploit porous entry points and harness this new technology for evil. Wielded wickedly, AI technology and GPS tracking systems can provide traffickers with the means to enhance their operations, evade detection, and maximize profits. Furthermore, the anonymity of the 'dark web’ and use of social media platforms make it easier for traffickers to recruit, advertise victims, and communicate with other traffickers across nations (ICAT Issue 07/2019).

The Battle Before the Border

As measures to prevent trafficking continue to strengthen, there is growing hope of being able to battle this war before the harm is done by combating it through prevention. Prevention takes a deep dive into the root causes of what makes certain groups easier targets of exploitation. This vulnerability can be traced back to such things as poverty, lack of education, social exclusion, inadequate self-image, the absence of a supportive community, and unhealthy relationships. Global Family Care Network has found that evidence-based approaches are essential to fighting modern-day human slavery. Global Family focuses on preventing trafficking and abuse by working to strengthen families and their communities. Their research has shown that interventions such as providing economic opportunities, education, and prevention programs can mitigate the risk of individuals falling victim to traffickers’ deceptive tactics (About Us | Global Family, n.d.).


While some individuals perceive ‘open borders’ as a representation of freedom, for many others, they serve as a potential gateway to exploitation and oppression. Those who worry about easier access being granted at border crossings have valid, evidence-backed concerns about open borders furthering the exploitation of vulnerable groups like migrant workers, refugees, and victims of human trafficking. This emerging concept prompts profound ethical dilemmas surrounding the delicate balance between advocating for freedom and safeguarding vulnerable populations from harm. In addition to addressing socio-economic factors, enhancing border controls and implementing effective immigration policies play a crucial role in curbing human trafficking on a global scale. By bolstering border security measures, leveraging advanced technology, and rigorously enforcing immigration regulations, authorities can disrupt traffickers’ operations and diminish the prevalence of exploitation. No matter what side of the fence you’re on in the context of border policy, this snowballing global issue requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. To effectively combat this global issue, it is imperative to strengthen international cooperation, raise public awareness, implement impactful policies and procedures, and tackle the root causes of vulnerability. All stakeholders, including trade unions, employers’ organizations, civil society, and individuals, have crucial roles to fulfill.

Join us as an intern at the St. James Research Centre in Scotland, where we strive to empower future leaders with the necessary skills, knowledge, and tools to implement sustainable solutions aimed at enhancing communities, combating modern slavery, and safeguarding children. Together, we can work towards devising strategies to combat and prevent the proliferation of trafficking (St. James Research Centre | Global Family, n.d.).

Reference List

(1) Geneva, September 2022: Global Estimates of Modern Slavery and Forced Marriage.

Council of Europe,March 2022:Online and Technology-Facillitated Trafficking in Human Beings

(Global Estimates of Modern Slavery 2022 | Walk Free. (n.d.). Walk Free.

Davis, H. (n.d.). Fighting Human Trafficking and Battling Biden’s Open Border | The Heritage Foundation. The Heritage Foundation.

UNODC, Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2022 (United Nations publication, Sales no.: E.23.IV.1).

House, W. (2023, January 5). Remarks by President Biden on Border Security and Enforcement. The White House.

About us | Global Family. (n.d.). Global Family.

St. James Research Centre | Global Family. (n.d.). Global Family.


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