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Bipartisan measure aims to thwart cross-border human trafficking

Reps. Clay Higgins and Lou Correa want to boost regional cooperation to fight criminal cartels

Louisiana Republican Rep. Clay Higgins and California Democratic Rep. Lou Correa have teamed up on legislation to tackle cross-border human trafficking.
Louisiana Republican Rep. Clay Higgins and California Democratic Rep. Lou Correa have teamed up on legislation to tackle cross-border human trafficking. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call, Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photos)

Louisiana Republican Rep. Clay Higgins and California Democratic Rep. Lou Correa have teamed up on legislation to tackle cross-border human trafficking, in a rare bipartisan effort on the political wedge issue of border security.

The legislation, set to be introduced Wednesday ahead of a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing on cross-border trafficking, aims to improve the United States’ partnerships with local law enforcement in Mexico as well in South and Central America.

The proposal represents the first time Higgins and Correa have co-led on a bill this session as chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Homeland Security Border Security and Enforcement Subcommittee.

That panel is scheduled to hear testimony Wednesday from officials at the Homeland Security and Justice departments about “fighting the flow of fentanyl from the southwest border.”

The new human trafficking bill is a rare moment of bipartisanship on border security. Higgins, a member of the far-right Freedom Caucus, has been a vocal critic of the Biden administration’s immigration policies. The Louisiana Republican introduced articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last month.

Higgins described the bill in a statement as “a strategic maneuver in our war against the cartels.”

Correa, in an interview Tuesday, said the U.S. does not cooperate enough with its foreign partners. He called on the government to adopt a more collaborative approach with Mexico and other nations over strong-arming tactics.

“They’re working with us, but it’s not a working cooperation among equals,” Correa said. “We’ve got to get away from this, ‘We’re going to kick your ass, we’re going to force you to work for us,’ and say we’re working together because it’s the right thing to do for all of our constituents.”

Correa said he wasn’t sure if the Homeland Security Committee would ultimately take up his bill, but he has seen more interest from his Republican colleagues lately in working together on homeland and national security issues.

“Now, whether that makes a difference getting them through, we’ll see,” Correa said. “You know how we say here: It’s not the Republicans that are the enemy, it’s the Senate.”

Bill details

The bill, obtained by CQ Roll Call, would require the Homeland Security chief to establish criminal investigative units dedicated to disrupting human smuggling and trafficking networks and boost training for certain prosecutors from Mexico and other nations.

The legislation also calls for “enhanced participation” in the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Human Trafficking Enforcement Initiative, a 2009 effort launched by the Homeland Security and Justice departments to share intelligence and improve cooperation with Mexican authorities.

The Homeland Security secretary also would be required to carry out an information campaign aimed at discouraging migrants from countries with high migration rates from traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The bipartisan effort to target traffickers comes as the United States has seen elevated levels of migration to the southwest border in recent years. Border agents logged more than 2.3 million encounters with migrants in fiscal 2022, which ended in September.

The number of border crossings has dipped in recent months, since the Biden administration lifted pandemic-era border restrictions and replaced them with new asylum eligibility limits.

Still, former Homeland Security officials have warned that the reduction in border crossings could be short-lived, as the conditions forcing migration in Central and South America persist.

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