WASHINGTON — President Trump held what he called a summit on human trafficking at the White House on Friday and pledged his administration’s commitment to combating it.
“I have many issues,” Mr. Trump said in announcing an executive order to combat human trafficking and online child exploitation. “I have never seen such enthusiasm for a single issue as I have for human trafficking.”
To mark the occasion, several high-ranking administration officials, including Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter; Eugene Scalia, the labor secretary; and William P. Barr, the attorney general, gathered in the East Room to hear personal stories from victims.
The executive order, according to White House, will establish a new position on the Domestic Policy Council devoted to trafficking, create a new government website to provide resources on the issue and direct officials to establish better methods for quantifying the problem.
According to Polaris, a nonprofit organization that operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, 10,949 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2018, a 25 percent jump from the year before.
But the White House event, which lasted the better part of two hours, did nothing to ease the concerns of activists who have said the administration’s previous efforts on the issue have harmed some of those seeking help.
“The administration has been especially dismissive of claims by women and children who have been trafficked over the U.S. southern border,” Eric Schwartz, the president of Refugees International, said in an email. “This terrible approach also discourages victims from coming out of the shadows and applying for visas.”
Mr. Schwartz said event on Friday amounted to little more than a “photo op.”
Representatives of other groups said that the Trump administration was prioritizing American trafficking victims over noncitizens seeking help. For example, some asylum-seeking migrants who have described themselves as trafficking victims have had to wait in the most dangerous parts of Mexico for their court hearings.
The White House, for its part, continues to focus on trafficking that occurs within the country’s borders. At the White House on Friday, Ms. Trump placed special emphasis on “domestic” trafficking, and called up a victim from the Atlanta area to share her story.
“We cannot turn a blind eye to trafficking that happens at home,” Ms. Trump said at the event. “We cannot tolerate the exploitation of our own citizens.”
Jean Bruggeman, the executive director of Freedom Network USA, one of the largest networks of anti-trafficking activists, said she was invited to attend the event, but declined when she learned that it would be a “one way” discussion meant to praise top administration officials, rather than solicit feedback on the issue.
“Many of the policies promoted and adopted under this administration have not been beneficial and have been quite harmful to trafficking survivors,” Ms. Bruggeman said, noting that a $13.5 million grant to provide housing to trafficking victims was held up without explanation after an initial funding announcement said the money could support noncitizens.
“Broadly,” Ms. Bruggeman added, “this administration’s attitude and actions toward immigrants have put them at higher risk of trafficking, and made it more difficult for victims who are coming to the country seeking safety.”
Other groups also declined to attend, citing a heated political climate.