Thousands of more children. Thousands of more chances for sexual exploitation.
In the next year, Maryland is poised to house part of the more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors coming to the US from South America.
While lawmakers are scrambling to provide services like shelter, legal help and education to these children, local immigration experts are also worried on another potentially damning issue:
A rise in sex trafficking.
“What we’ve created is an ‘opportunity’ for children to be taken advantage of,” said Jeanne Allert, founder and executive director of The Samaritan Women, a shelter that takes in trafficked women from across the country. “Depending on the age, it can be easy to manipulate a child; especially one traveling alone.”
Currently, the state has no special programs that specifically deal with minors who have been trafficked.
If a minor is rescued, Allert said the child will likely enter the state’s foster care system, where they likely to have 12 home placements before reaching the age of 18.
“Add to the fact that these children might be reunited with a distant relative; someone they’ve never met and don’t know much about, she said. “We don’t know what situation they are walking into.”
Throughout the state, the numbers of sex trafficking incidents has continued to rise.
According to data from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, Maryland has the eighth highest call volume for sex-trafficking victim calls in the country.
In 2012, the organization received 409 calls for reports of sex trafficking. Last year, that number jumped to 709.
Calls involving trafficking of a minor during that time grew from seven incidents to 40 in one year, according to the resource center.
Ted Dallas, Maryland Secretary for Human Services, said exploitation is a factor they working to prevent.
To ensure the children are entering the country safely, Dallas said state leaders are working with the federal government to do indpeth screenings on family members and foster families so that the living environment remains safe.
"It's our best safeguard against anything like that," he said.
So far 2,200 uncaompanied minors have entered and been placed into Maryland. To deal with more children coming in, Dallas said the state is applying for up to 60 grants to help expand services.
That funding could be available in the next month.
Sex Trafficking advocates are trying unique approaches to stop sex trafficking. Learn more about their efforts here.
Local immigration outreach organizations like the Esperanza Center are already talking about trafficking prevention, especially from a legal perspective.
“We are one of the few organizations around that have such a comprehensive array of services,” said Val Twanmoh, Director of Esperanza Center in a previous interview.
They also anticipate being on the frontlines of dealing with the immigration spike. Leaders are already working to get more funding to help expand their services, including legal help.
“While we saw the rise coming,” she said, “We didn’t anticipate the really large number coming at once.”
Adonia Simpson, managing attorney of immigration legal services for the Esperanza Center said client referrals are booked up until mid-August. She anticipates the wait to grow.
Learn how the Esperanza Center is helping unaccompanied immigrants here.
To bring the issue to the forefront, state leaders are trying to pass more protective laws to protect trafficked minors
Maryland state Sen. Bryan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel County) said the state continues to be a “hot spot” for sex trafficking because of its location.
Maryland is one of only eight states in the country that does not have Safe Harbor laws, which help prevent a minor from being criminally charged with prostitution if trafficked for sex.
In the last session, Simonaire introduced a resolution that asked the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force to perform a specific study on how to treat minor trafficking victims.
See how he is toughening those laws here.
Until real legislation is passed and surrounding states pass more transparent laws to help sex trafficking victims get the help they need, Allert said the problem will only
continue to grow.
“We have to be on the same page,” she said. “So that another child doesn’t become a victim of this.”