Human trafficking is a major crisis in America. Every year, tens of thousands are smuggled across our borders into the United States as human slaves.
On this episode of “American Thought Leaders,” Epoch Times senior editor Jan Jekielek talks with Anna Paulina, an anti-trafficking advocate, who is also director of Hispanic engagement for Turning Point USA.
They discuss the realities of this horrific human trafficking crisis as well as possible solutions. They also talk about the crisis on the border and why the number of illegal immigrants entering the United States has skyrocketed this year.
Jan Jekielek: You were telling me the other day about how you were at the border recently, working on a documentary with Turning Point USA. And I’m wondering if you could tell me a bit about what you experienced there.
Anna Paulina: Right now, with this whole immigration debate, we’re seeing a lot of people mention this “human trafficking” word, but there’s not a lot of information, I think, for your everyday person, that really compiles the stats, and shows you the stories as to really what’s happening down there.
What I basically did is: I sat down one day and I wrote down the episodes. I went down to the border, got people who are dealing directly with this problem of human trafficking, the illegal immigration, the drugs—ranging from law enforcement to Border Patrol agents to people that are actually working with these counter-trafficking agencies that are going in and literally taking kids out of these situations—to sit down and tell their stories. It’s going to be a 13-part episode, basically, that we will be streaming on all of our digital media platforms, so that people who might not have access to cable television or might not be able to subscribe to certain channels, that they’ll be able to have information. They’re going to be able to see directly what’s happening down there.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned human trafficking, and I know that’s something that’s very close to your heart. You’ve been involved with an organization that focuses specifically on this—a veterans organization.
Ms. Paulina: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Can you tell me a little bit about what you’ve done with that group, and then we’ll explore the human-trafficking piece.
Ms. Paulina: Veterans for Child Rescue is the organization that, really, I like to tell people, lifted my blindfold as to what was really happening in this country, specifically, at the border. I got with the organization probably two years ago in December, before you saw the media shift into really focusing on this immigration debate and topic. And what I realized with this organization, through just looking at the footage and then doing my own digging is that, yes, there is a crisis, this is modern-day slavery. But what’s horrifying about this is that you have the exploitation of children.
And for me, as adults, people can be really bad sometimes, right? Like, sometimes, when we see other adults suffering, it might to a lot of people not really come across as that big of a problem, right? But when you have children, and you go down there and you’re talking to agents or you see footage of trees that literally have … or like bushes, that have underwear on them, or you’re hearing the stories of what these agents are talking about—about how they come across the raped kids. That, to me … that’s the point at which I say “No, this needs to stop,” and that this is not a partisan issue. This is an issue that we know is happening. This has been happening for a long time. And it’s almost by God’s grace that now we’re being forced to deal with this because this has been something that if we don’t deal with it now, when is it going to stop?
You know, we are leading out this nation. We are setting an example to the rest of the world, and we do not allow slavery in this country. So, why is it now that this is becoming politicized and being used as propaganda to keep Hispanics in this mindset of “If you don’t want to support the border that you’re apparently betraying your race” and really turn us into single-issue voters.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. So I understand there are about 18,000 women—
Ms. Paulina: Annually.
Mr. Jekielek: —documented that were trafficked in 2018.
Ms. Paulina: It’s the 2018 human-trafficking report that the State Department put out. It says that 18,000 women annually are trafficked along the U.S.–Mexico border.
Mr. Jekielek: What are the numbers for children. I’m not aware of that.
Ms. Paulina: UNICEF did a piece on it, and I don’t know if you guys will be posting that information, but you can find it on my Twitter. Sixteen thousand children, estimated, have been victims of human trafficking. These are just the children that they’ve been able to come across. These are very rough numbers. One of the most horrific stories that I heard of personally was from a Border Patrol agent. And this will be in the documentary, where he’s telling us a story about how he came across a group of men that were being forced to run drugs across the border. So, a lot of times, what people don’t understand is when they’re coming across these big groups of people, whether or not they’re moving loads of drugs, they’re not being given an option. A lot of times, they’ll hold their family members, and basically say “If you don’t do this we’re going to kill these people.” This happens on a regular basis. So he came across—
Mr. Jekielek: These are the cartels?
Ms. Paulina: Yes, this is the organized crime—the cartels that are literally just right on the other side of the border. He was telling us how he had come across this group and he realized that the men and women were separate. And when he sat down, he was talking to the women. He was kind of asking them what happened, found out that they had been separated.
Toward the end, he noticed one of the women in particular was really upset. She was crying, and in Spanish, she says, “Where’s my child? And he says, “What are you talking about? We haven’t found any kids.” What they found out is that they had separated the men from the women from the children, and that they relocated the men and the women, but they took the children. And they still haven’t been able to find them to this day. That happens on a regular basis. … And now it’s happening, which is in my opinion, horrifying is, you have these families being kept together. We don’t know if they’re even biologically related. This is a correlated issue with trafficking. This happens on a regular basis.
And so knowing these stories, knowing that we have this now catch-and-release program to where they come in, they have a kid with them, it may or may not be their child, and then they’re released. We don’t know what’s happening to that child; they might not show up to their court dates. And so, yes, it is an issue. And, yes, we should be taking a strong stance on it because if we don’t, people on both sides are going to continue to get hurt, especially the children.
Mr. Jekielek: So the children are basically being used as pawns to facilitate this legal loophole. That’s what you’re alluding to here, right?
Ms. Paulina: Yes, to facilitate the legal loophole. And then on top of that, they’re sold. I mean the difference between a human and drugs is that you can sell a human time and time again. And I remember I was telling you about Karla? Forty-three thousand times she was raped in a four-year period. It totaled to 36 men a day, seven days a week, no time off. You hear her story. She actually went and addressed Congress on C-SPAN. You can watch all this stuff. This is not a made-up number. But when you hear the way that these people are treated—to know that a child is raped, murdered, exploited, wherever it might be—that is horrifying. And we need to take a moral stance against this and say, “You might do that in your country, but it is not accepted here. And we are not going to facilitate or allow this to continue happening.” If we have to make changes in government, we will make sure that’s not happening any further from this point forward.
Mr. Jekielek: In terms of the numbers of people coming across, we’re hearing numbers of 100,000 people in the last month.
Ms. Paulina: According to Border Patrol, March was the highest month of apprehensions for illegal crossings in over a decade. One hundred thousand people were caught trying to come across the border. I believe the number is up 143 percent from last year. And that absolutely has to do with what’s happening in the media with focusing on this. And I, personally, hold legislators accountable for that, because you have Hispanic legislators that are race-baiting, turning this immigration thing into a race issue. It has nothing to do with race. It has nothing to do with someone’s national origin and everything to do with 1) realizing that without borders we aren’t a country; 2) that there are correlated issues, and 3) we have the right to ensure that there is no slavery in this country, and to secure that and enforce those policies in any way, shape, or form we choose.
Mr. Jekielek: So some people might say well, with all these people coming across human trafficking, such a small part … have you heard this argument?
Ms. Paulina: So my first television interview ever was on Fox News, and I was on [with] Jesse Watters. And I was talking to a woman who is a self-proclaimed feminist, and she had the nerve to tell me that human-trafficking numbers are at an all-time low under this administration because the administration, surprise-surprise, is actually doing their job. To me, 18,000 women is not an all-time low.
Mr. Jekielek: When was this?
Ms. Paulina: This was my very first time on Fox, so this was probably, I want to say, back in maybe August?
Mr. Jekielek: OK.
Ms. Paulina: Around that time frame. And that is not an all-time low. Even if it were 200 people, that’s too many. For people to really diminish this, to take that number and say “Oh, well it’s not high enough.” I mean, what’s high enough? What’s the value of one human life? Then to realize that these people aren’t even treated like human beings, they’re treated a lot of times less than animals. You, at that point in time, have the decision to make—either you go along with what the mainstream is saying is socially acceptable and is OK, or you say no, I don’t believe in this. I believe that we have we should be standing up [to say] that this is the right thing to do. And then you tell people, and it does get hard because you come up against a lot of scrutiny because a lot of people … like you said, they’re just not aware of what’s happening down there. And then you have people politicizing this. You have to do what’s right, and that’s why I’m here today talking to you.
Mr. Jekielek: Can you tell me more about Karla? This terrible case study. And Unidos vs. Trata, the organization that she’s working with now.
Ms. Paulina: This is exactly the type of story that people need to hear. This is an organization that is in Mexico, and they also work in the United States, to get women out of these horrific situations. What a lot of people don’t realize, and when I’m talking to people about this, I will bring up the fact that CNN actually wrote an article on Karla. This is how big of an issue that this is. And so what they will do is they’ll take these women, they help get them on their feet. There’s also a lot of emotional trauma that goes along with this. So they’re—
Mr. Jekielek: Unimaginable, frankly. I don’t even know what to say or think with that situation.
Ms. Paulina: It’s so inspiring knowing that these women are coming out of these situations, and that someone like Karla is now an activist for this, and that she speaks out for them. So after everything that’s happened for her, she’s now working with this organization to help other women. But they do also help these women secure “T” visas, which a lot of people aren’t aware is something that the State Department has in place for if you are a victim of trafficking or slave labor; you can actually apply for these and then, you essentially have the right to stay in the United States. That is something that I think a lot of people don’t realize. There are people in government that care. These programs are set up in place to really take these people out of these horrific situations and help them in the future. But this organization, if we can really have a sit-down with Turning Point and allow them to get us the stories of these women, I think that that is what transcends politics, right? The stories of these women who have been brought into this country, those are the stories that people need to hear.
Mr. Jekielek: Clearly, we can see the reasons behind your passion to deal with this human-trafficking issue. Irrespective, some people might be surprised that as a Latina, you’re basically supporting border security, and you’re so serious about it. Do you get that kind of response? What do people say?
Ms. Paulina: Initially, when I first came out, basically, as a conservative, and I really started talking about the issues that were near and dear to my heart—so the trafficking. That’s really above anything political, I’ve always been working with this. At first, I got a lot of negative responses. In fact, I had a lot of comments about the color of my skin, that I’m biracial, whatever it might be. But then I realized that the more I spoke out about it, the more I saw like little platforms start to pop up on social media, saying “I want you to know that I’m also a Latino or Latina and I support you and that this is an issue and that we care about these people. But if it’s not done the correct way, people get hurt in the process.” And I think that when you have someone out there willing to set an example, it inspires other people to really speak up and hold true to their values. So, initially, it was negative. Now, it’s a lot of positive response.
We’ve actually been able to, essentially, realize that going into 2020, the Hispanic vote is going to be very important, especially for this. You have this shift to, all of a sudden in the last two years, they are now really focusing on the Hispanic demographic. They’re saying that this is a race issue. It’s an issue of keeping Hispanics out, because, you know, our president and our government is “xenophobic,” which is farthest from the truth. It’s in my opinion when I heard President Trump talking about shutting down the border —absolutely shut it down, take a hard stance against it because it needs to be dealt with. And when I saw people—it sounds kind of funny—complaining that they wouldn’t be able to get avocados, to me that was horrifying because you’re focused on avocados, and there are children and women and LGBT and even sometimes men that are being forced into sexual rape? And you are focused on getting your guacamole at Chipotle? That, I could not understand.
So this is why I really hope that the president takes a hard stance and does force the hands of people in Congress and in the Senate to deal with this.
Mr. Jekielek: You know, human trafficking is one issue at the border. Drug trafficking, obviously, is another massive issue fueling the opioid crisis. Immigration isn’t the only issue. I don’t even know if it’s the biggest issue.
Ms. Paulina: Immigration is so tied into everything else that’s taking place. People like to say it’s an easy topic. It’s not, because you do have the aspect of it directly impacting all communities across the border, whether they’re black, white, or Hispanic with the drug problem. The drugs come into these communities [and] fuel these vicious cycles that tie into the welfare programs, that tie into the violence, and tie into keeping these communities impoverished, and really result in a lot of heartache to Americans across the board. When people are coming here, if they’re coming here illegally, they will never be able to attain the American dream. So what do they resort to? Sometimes, they do resort to selling drugs because that’s how they support their family. And even then, it still might, in their opinion, be better than living somewhere like Mexico or South America.
But that’s not OK here. When you’re talking to people and you’re saying, “Well, it’s not just a simple fix.” This is the problem that we have. Here’s a really big solution that we know will help stop a lot of these bad things that are happening now. It might not 100 percent ever get rid of the fact that we’re going to have people still trying to bring in drugs. But, guess what? When you have a physical barrier there, you’re going to prevent and deter a lot of people from trying to do it in the first place.
Mr. Jekielek: So you actually have family on both sides of the border, and you’re saying you’re OK with closing the border.
Ms. Paulina: Yeah, I’m OK with that. And I’m OK with it because I realize that … if it’s not done now, if we don’t deal with this right, it’s just going to continue to happen. Breitbart did an article on this where they literally showed photos from a journalist who risked their life to get Breitbart the photos of this. Because, if you come out in Mexico and you are a journalist reporting on the cartels, they will kill you. And there are photos of decapitated and dismembered bodies that were dropped along the highway pretty close to our border. And that’s what’s happening on a regular basis. You have places like Juarez that has feminicide. They will literally brutally rape and then dismember, torture these women, and take photos of it. And this is all intimidation tactics.
This is something that’s happening right in our back yard, and it is absolutely related to our policies. Just like we see the surge in illegal immigration right now, because of how the media’s covering it: it’s inappropriate and irresponsible reporting, in my opinion. Because of that we’re seeing this big influx, and we’re seeing people that are convicted offenders trying to gain access again, because they know if they can come right now, they are going to have the backing of the left of the DNC to say “Yes, come here illegally. We don’t want borders.”
That is such an irresponsible ideology and mindset to have. And it’s in my opinion that the people that are in politics doing this right now, they’re doing it so they can get re-elected. They don’t care about helping Hispanics, but then to those Hispanics that are there they’re race-baiting, and they’re doing it on purpose. Because they know that if you were to have a conservative white male come up against a female Latino in Congress that’s on the opposite side, she’s going to say “I’m being attacked because of my race and I’m a woman and I feel threatened.” And that’s wrong. That’s exactly why we need stronger people with Hispanic voices to speak out against this. That’s exactly why I’m doing what I’m doing right now.
Mr. Jekielek: So you’ve also encountered border security and ICE agents and so forth in your travels?
Ms. Paulina: I’ve worked with Border Patrol and law enforcement, and that does tie into these other agencies like ICE. But what’s crazy to me is when you have elected officials calling for abolishing ICE. I like to put up the Top 10 most wanted in the United States for human trafficking: five of the 10 were illegals coming from Mexico that were bringing in girls and women and children into this country. And so you have ICE directly dealing with the issue of human trafficking. And you have people saying that they’re racist and we need to abolish it? So what are you really trying to abolish? Human slavery?
That’s my response. I don’t know if these people are just choosing to ignore the facts or that they are doing it on purpose, because if you see these numbers, you know that these are not fudged numbers and that this is not fake reporting. Why would you not choose to back an organization like that?
Mr. Jekielek: It sounds to me like you think the politicized nature of the commentary— basically saying that having a barrier is a racist thing, using ICE as a racist thing, and the people coming across knowing that they have a support of a significant portion of the population—that’s actually fueling the increase in the numbers?
Ms. Paulina: What’s happening is people in Mexico, people in South America, they’re not down there watching our news. They know that right now they can come to the United States. You see what’s happening. I think Kamala Harris posted a picture of the tents underneath an overpass and she [says] this is a humanitarian issue. Absolutely right, Kamala. But you know why? It’s because you’re sitting here saying that we need to have an open border and that these people deserve to come here. So they’re coming, and we have no idea who these people are, who they are exploiting, and what they’re bringing in the process. That’s exactly my response to all of these people that are doing this.
This argument should not be an argument. This is the right of a president of a nation to secure its borders. We are a nation with borders. Without them, we are nothing. Aside from that, knowing that there’s this correlated issue with the drugs, knowing that Americans are affected, knowing that people are dying on both sides, and then you have the rape and murder and torture of children, we’re supposed to be OK with that? And because I’m American and I happen to be Hispanic, then I’m only allowed to talk on it? Why is it now that it’s turned into an issue of: if you are not Hispanic and you talk about it, all of a sudden you’re a racist? They have taken the value away from that word. That is not racist to want to protect your people on both sides.
Mr. Jekielek: So what is the next step? What would you like to see happen in the next two to three months?
Ms. Paulina: I’d like the president to shut down the border … I don’t care if you have to do it through the National Guard. I don’t care if he has to do it from, basically, forcing the hand of Congress to deal with this. But I’d absolutely like to see immigration reform. I’d like to see them bring in work visas for people that are just trying to come here seasonally. I’d like to see the courts backed up with more judges and attorneys to help with this immigration issue. And we absolutely need a zero-tolerance stance on illegal immigration—meaning if you come here, we’re going to send you back because, by us allowing people to stay, we’re only encouraging more to come and more people are going to be exploited in the process.
Aside from that, I think that there needs to be an aspect of judicial reform to be that if you are trafficking, if you are caught bringing someone over, if you are caught buying someone, if you are caught exploiting a child, you need to go to jail and they need to throw away the key. In my opinion, if you are raping a child, you need the death penalty.
Mr. Jekielek: There are also the asylum cases—legitimate asylum cases—so, presumably, you’re open to having those people heard, right?
Ms. Paulina: Absolutely. Look what’s happening in Venezuela, but they don’t want to talk about that, right? If they say that Maduro is a bad idea then there goes the whole democratic socialism platform. Yes, people like that should be given precedence for these asylum claims. And I’m sure that there are people that are fearing for their lives trying to escape that country, but they can’t because they don’t have a Second Amendment and have no way out. So, absolutely, those people need to be given priority. And that’s exactly why we need to not be making a joke of this whole asylum process. You have one in 10 people now coming to this country because they’re claiming asylum claims, because you don’t like the gang violence taking place in your country—that is not a legit claim for asylum status. OK. Because you don’t like what’s happening your economy—that’s not a legit claim. If you are in fear from your government, and you’re going to be persecuted? That’s an asylum claim. But to have a joke and a mockery made of it because you want to come here and you want to cut the line? Too bad. There are 4 million people waiting to come here. You need to wait your turn.
Mr. Jekielek: We were talking a little bit earlier about, you know, it seems like … you’re telling me there are more people speaking up in the Hispanic community about their more conservative perspective. That’s not something that’s typically associated. I think I heard that there are hundreds of groups even in Washington alone.
Ms. Paulina: I think the number is around 200 Hispanic conservative groups. The thing is is that, doing what I’m doing, especially with Turning Point being outreach, I haven’t really seen a movement. I haven’t heard anything of these groups working together. It would be ideal in the near future to have these groups come together and then all work to show face, to show representation, to say, “Hey, we’re here. We’re conservative first and foremost. We are Hispanic and we support immigration policies because of X, Y, and Z issues.” But that’s something that we’re working on in the near future.
I will actually be back in D.C. at the beginning of May with an organization called Bienvenido that’s basically changing the outreach message to conservative Hispanics to say, “Hey, look, we’re here for you, we’re here to show fair representation, and to make sure that D.C. listens to you and listens to your needs and wants.” Because immigration for many Hispanics is close to the home, it’s [that], you know, our families are over there. But the problem is is people don’t realize that if you don’t have fair representation, that people aren’t going to fix the issue, because it turns people into voters and voters equals power. But aside from that that we have to hold them accountable, because if we don’t, this issue is never gonna get fixed.
So the organization called Bienvenido that I’m working with now is going to hopefully bring together the entire conservative Hispanic base and make sure that D.C. is carrying through with what they’re saying to work on issues of immigration.
Mr. Jekielek: This is actually curious to me. Hispanics have a lot of what you would consider conservative values, but they don’t seem to vote that way.
Ms. Paulina: They don’t vote that way because, unfortunately, in the media, in Telemundo Univision, you have really leftist-leaning mentalities. So, when you’re trying to break through to these people and you’re like look, we’re Catholic or Christian, we’re not pro-abortion. We care about our families. But this is the issue with immigration, a lot of it is for the people that are newly here, for first-gen. Sometimes, it can be a language issue and barrier, but that’s exactly why you need people within those communities to go and talk to them because … we are a loyal community [but] we’re also distrusting of politics, and for good reason.
A lot of people, if you’re smart, you’re not going to go into politics just trusting anyone. But what’s happening now is you have over 50 percent of Hispanics supporting the president. Aside from that, we’re really realizing “Hey, look, we’re not all dumb here, we can think on our own.” And you have multiple people on many platforms that are now reaching out back into the community and saying, “Hey, we’re here we want representation, come on.” And that’s what’s happening now.
Mr. Jekielek: And so this group that’s bringing together all these organizations, is it just in D.C. or national?
Ms. Paulina: It’s national. We actually have … I don’t even want to call them Instagram influencers. I hate that term. They’re activists. We have activists in Florida, Texas, California, [and] Arizona. And what we’re doing is, we’re basically bringing people on board. You know, this is a message for everyone. It’s not just one person’s fight to save the nation. And what’s incredible about that is when you empower other people to use their platforms, they take that personally and they run with it. And they have that passion, and so we’re hoping to unite the base.
We’re going to be here in D.C., addressing Congress on issues of national security, immigration, and education. So what we’re hoping to see is, once that takes place, if we can get the blessing of the White House to say, “Hey, we recognize that there’s a conservative Hispanic base”—which there absolutely is—you watch what happens in 2020 and leading out to the future.
Because now, according to www.pewhispanic.org, we are the largest voting minority, and we will continue to grow.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.