The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump signs executive order to combat human trafficking as some advocacy groups boycott summit

In the East Room at the White House, President Trump, with Ivanka Trump, right, displays an executive order on combating human trafficking. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

President Trump signed an executive order Friday creating a position within his domestic policy team dedicated solely to fighting human trafficking. The order, signed during a White House summit on the issue, also proposes an additional $42 million in funding for service programs and prosecutions.

“Human trafficking is worse than ever before because of the Internet,” Trump said. “The Internet has caused lots of good things to happen and lots of really bad things, and this is probably the worst of the bad things.”

Trump was joined by Vice President Pence and first daughter Ivanka Trump, whom he credited for championing the issue.

“I would say that this issue may be closest to her heart because of the level of evil that you would never believe is even possible in a modern age,” Trump said.

Ivanka Trump’s office organized the summit to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which established trafficking as a federal crime. While some anti-trafficking organizations were grateful for the spotlight on the issue, others boycotted the event, citing the administration’s treatment of trafficking victims who are immigrants. Among them was Polaris, the organization that runs the national human-trafficking hotline.

Anti-human-trafficking groups refuse to attend Ivanka Trump’s White House summit

The president seemed to respond directly to those critics in his speech Friday.

“You can read what you want, you can say what you want, but nobody has done more than what we have been doing on human trafficking,” Trump said.

The event unfolded as the historic impeachment trial of the president continued in the Senate — a reality that went unacknowledged by every speaker but Trump himself.

“We had a lot of great senators who wanted to be there so desperately, but I said, just stay where you are.”

He praised Attorney General William P. Barr for going after traffickers.

“My administration is fighting these monsters, persecuting and prosecuting them, locking them away for a very, very long time,” Trump said. “We have had a tremendous track record, the best track record in a long time.”

Statistics from the Justice Department show otherwise. Prosecutions of sex and labor traffickers, which fluctuated during the Obama years, are down from 531 in fiscal 2016 to 343 in fiscal 2019.

The funding proposal in Trump’s executive order would increase the budget for those investigations and prosecutions by $4 million, or 5.7 percent.

The order also establishes a federal working group on housing for trafficking survivors and a website listing the government’s anti-trafficking resources.

Its most significant creation will be the trafficking-focused position on the White House Domestic Policy Council, something advocates praised as a chance to centralize efforts that have long been scattered across multiple federal agencies.

“The anti-trafficking community received a major shot in the arm this morning with President Trump’s announcement,” said Lance Lemmonds of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking. “President Trump has committed more federal resources and more national focus on combating the systematic buying and selling of our nation’s kids than any administration in history.”

That message was echoed by speaker after speaker at the summit, which included comments from two trafficking survivors, nine Republican politicians and the ambassador to the Vatican, Callista Gingrich, who emphasized the importance of faith-based anti-trafficking organizations.

Pence led attendees in a standing ovation for Ivanka Trump.

Ivanka smiled graciously, as she had each time her efforts were praised throughout the event. In her own speech, she complimented her father.

“In the early days of this administration, President Trump committed to bringing the full force and weight of the U.S. government to tackling this horrific problem,” she said.

She mentioned the human-trafficking legislation she has helped shepherd into law. As the audience applauded, she said, “And we’re just getting started.”