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    Katie Britt’s false linkage of a sex-trafficking case to Joe Biden

    “We know that President Biden didn’t just create this border crisis. He invited it with 94 executive actions in his first 100 days. When I took office, I took a different approach. I traveled to the Del Rio sector of Texas. That’s where I spoke to a woman who shared her story with me. She had been sex trafficked by the cartels starting at the age of 12. She told me not just that she was raped every day, but how many times a day she was raped. The cartels put her on a mattress in a shoe box of a room, and they sent men through that door over and over again for hours and hours on end. We wouldn’t be okay with this happening in a Third World country. This is the United States of America, and it is past time, in my opinion, that we start acting like it. President Biden’s border policies are a disgrace.”

    — Sen. Katie Boyd Britt (R-Ala.), in the Republican response to the State of the Union address, March 7

    If you were watching Britt’s speech on Thursday night, you likely would have thought she was talking about a recent victim of sex trafficking who was abused in the United States and suffered because of President Biden’s policies.

    If you did, you would have been wrong. Sean Ross, Britt’s communications director, confirmed that she was talking about Karla Jacinto Romero — who has testified before Congress about being forced to work in Mexican brothels from 2004 to 2008. (A viral TikTok by journalist Jonathan Katz first revealed that Britt was speaking about Romero.) In a phone conversation and a statement, Ross disputed that Britt’s language was misleading.

    We disagree. Let’s take a look.

    Britt’s account of Romero’s experience was a centerpiece of her rebuttal to Biden’s address. The way Britt sets up the story, there is no indication that she is talking about a woman who was working in brothels in Mexico during the George W. Bush administration. This is how the passage unfolds.

    • She first blames Biden for the surge of migrants at the border.
    • Then she says she visited the border shortly after she took office. That would be 2023.
    • At length, she details the story of an unnamed victim that she says she met on her trip. The implication is that the woman recently crossed the border — because of “sex trafficking by the cartels.”
    • She strongly suggests that her abuse took place in the United States: “We wouldn’t be okay with this happening in a Third World country. This is the United States of America, and it is past time, in my opinion, that we start acting like it.”
    • She ends by reinforcing that such alleged trafficking is Biden’s fault: “President Biden’s border policies are a disgrace.”

    But Biden has nothing to do with Romero’s story. As she testified nine years ago, her mother threw her out of her house at age 12 and she “fell prey to a professional pimp.” She says she then spent the next four years in brothels before a regular client helped her escape when she was 16 years old. There is no indication in her story that drug cartels were involved, though Britt said that in the State of the Union response and has made a similar claim on at least one other occasion. Romero was never trafficked to the United States; instead, she says many men who paid to have sex with her were “foreigners visiting my city looking to have sexual interactions with minors like me.”

    In a YouTube video, Britt features images of her hugging Romero during her 2023 trip to the border. “If we as leaders of the greatest nation in the world are not fighting to protect the most vulnerable, we are not doing our job,” she said in the video. The implication again is that this happened on Biden’s watch.

    When Donald Trump was president, he regularly decried human trafficking that he claimed was happening at the border, including that “thousands of young girls and women” were being smuggled across the border for prostitution. In 2019, we investigated that claim and found no evidence to support it. Most human trafficking prosecutions generally involve legal border crossings, visa fraud and travel into the United States on airplanes. Victim organizations say there are relatively few cases that involve forced kidnapping across the border. This might be one reason Britt regularly cites a case that happened long ago and did not involve crossing the border.

    Ross, Britt’s spokesman, said that Romero’s story was indicative of trafficking that is now happening at the border and that should be clear from Britt’s framing in the speech.

    He said the reference to a “Third World country” was generic and was not intended to refer to Mexico, which he said is not a Third World country. Third World is a dated Cold War-era term previously used to refer to poor or developing countries. Global South, indicating low income and high poverty, is a more common expression today. Mexico is considered part of the Global South, though it is also a member of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

    In a written statement, Ross said:

    • “The story Senator Britt told was 100% correct. And there are more innocent victims of that kind of disgusting, brutal trafficking by the cartels than ever before right now. The Biden administration’s policies — the policies in this country that the President falsely claims are humane — have empowered the cartels and acted as a magnet to a historic level of migrants making the dangerous journey to our border. Along that journey, children, women, and men are being subjected to gut-wrenching, heartbreaking horrors in our own backyard. And here at home, the Biden administration’s policies are leading to more and more suffering, including Americans being poisoned by fentanyl and being murdered. These human costs are real, and it’s past time for some on the left to stop pretending otherwise.”

    In a high-profile speech like this, a politician should not mislead voters with emotionally charged language. Romero’s story is tragic and may be evocative of other Mexican girls trapped in the sex trade in that country. But she was not trafficked across the border — and her story has nothing to do with Biden. Britt’s failure to make that clear earns her Four Pinocchios.

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