If the budget of the U.S. government is a reflection of our national priorities, then our national priorities are seriously out of whack. That’s because, according to a recent special edition of Larry King Live focused on human trafficking, the U.S. government’s budget to fight trafficking of people is about 0.1% of its budget to fight trafficking of drugs. Does this mean that the government really thinks it’s 1000 times more important to find an ounce of cocaine or marijuana, than a little girl in a brothel, an immigrant being beaten in a field, or a domestic worker enslaved inside a home?
USAID esimates that the government spent around $134 million a year on programs to combat human trafficking between 2001 and 2008. That averages out to about $17 million a year. As far as congressional budgets go, this is chump change. According to the always ticking War on Drugs clock, the government has spent at least $13 billion this year, and spent $19 billion in 2003. And in case you’re wondering, that means the average annual expenditure on anti-trafficking programs is exactly 0.1307% of the estimated expenditure on the war on drug so far this year.
Given the question, I think most people would agree that it is a greater national priority to go after criminals who are enslaving, and in some case killing, innocent people, than those who are bringing in illegal drugs to make some kid’s spring break in Dayton Beach a little more interesting. So why is the financial gap so huge? Is it simply because drug trafficking and abuse is a better documented problem which has had more time to seep into the American psyche? Is it the force of inertia, that keeps multiple agencies on the trail of narcotics while human beings are smuggled across borders and from state to state with impunity? Or is it simply that drugs touch the lives of more voters and taxpayers (who doesn’t have at least one friend or family member who has struggled with addiction) than human trafficking does.
It’s important to note here that drug trafficking and human trafficking are not entirely separate issues, mostly because the criminal organizations who have historically trafficked drugs are increasingly adding human beings to their repertoire. You can sell a bag of heroin once. You can sell a girl for sex several times a night. You can force a woman to pick fruit without paying her for the whole season. And if you buy his debt, you can make a man and his whole family work for you for life. It is impossible to talk about these two issues in a vacuum from each other because they don’t exist in a vacuum from each other.
Here’s my proposition to the government: give us one of the drug enforcement agencies, any agency, to fight trafficking. There will still be billions of dollars and millions of hours of manpower fighting the war on drugs, but we’ll be a tiny bit closer to a more appropriate distribution of resources, based on what should be our national priorities. The skills used to root out drug trafficking are many of the same ones that can root out human trafficking (after all, you might even see some gangs you recognize). And the people who have been focused on aftercare and recovery for drug addiction could put their skills to great use helping people recover from slavery.
So what do you say, Mr. Obama. One little agency? And then we can start to say that here in America, we only care about drugs 100 times more than people, not 1000.
Photo credit: XJasonRogersX