Trump signs executive order expanding efforts to combat human trafficking 'monsters'
"My administration is putting unprecedented pressure on traffickers," he said.
January is human trafficking awareness month and on Friday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order expanding his domestic policy office with a new position solely focused on combating human trafficking.
The president officially announced the new position during a White House summit on the topic, organized by his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump.
"My administration is putting unprecedented pressure on traffickers at home and abroad," Trump said during the event, adding "we have signed more legislation on human trafficking than any other administration has ever even thought about."
While touting his administration's success in authorizing over $400 million to fight the issue, he said the internet was the main portal for human traffickers to find their victims.
"Human trafficking is worse than it ever has been before," Trump said. "And that's because of the internet."
He outlined initiatives his administration has done thus far, including the Department of Justice shutting down certain websites found to be associated with groups accused of running human trafficking rings.
He added, “My administration is fighting these monsters, persecuting and prosecuting them.”
The White House event, put together in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, legislation signed in 2000 by former President Bill Clinton and later adopted by former President Barack Obama and Trump, welcomed lawmakers and officials who have spearheaded initiatives to fight against human trafficking -- including Ambassador Callista Gingrich and Texas Rep. Michael McCaul.
"We are pleased to be among those honoring the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), bipartisan legislation that serves as the foundation of today’s fight to eradicate the sexual exploitation of youth," said Linda Smith, the founder and president of Shared Hope -- an anti-human trafficking advocacy group -- in a statement to ABC News.
Smith added, "Domestic minor sex trafficking is a national epidemic that has no party affiliation … In fact, it’s a cause that has benefited greatly from bipartisan support for the last two decades."
Among the groups invited, Ivanka Trump also brought up survivors to the podium to speak, many of whom have become national speakers for the cause.
In the days leading up to the summit, some anti-trafficking groups said they declined invitations to the event, citing opposition to the Trump administration's policies as the reason.
Groups such as the Polaris Project, a nonprofit that runs the national human-trafficking hotline, said they didn't want their attendance to be misconstrued as having a political bias.
"At this highly politicized moment in our nation, we were concerned that our attendance at this summit would be misconstrued as taking a political side, and so we chose not to attend." Polaris said in a statement to ABC News.
"Polaris remains committed to working with all parties on all issues related to human trafficking," the statement said. "Including helping everyone in a position to make change understand how certain immigration and refugee policies and rhetoric contribute to sex and labor trafficking and make it less likely that victims and survivors feel safe seeking help."
While the Trump administration has continuously raised concerns about the issue, some organizations said a large portion of victims in the United States are immigrants. The groups that boycotted the event said they think the administration endangers them even further.
But, looking forward, DOJ will have a $77 million budget to support victims of human trafficking, according to fiscal 2020 budget numbers.
In his executive order, Trump also called for a $4 million increase in funding toward investigating and prosecuting human trafficking in the U.S., in addition to a proposed increase in grant funding for state and local efforts, according to a White House official.
Despite the criticism from some groups on how the administration has handled the issue, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children praised it.
"We appreciate having a seat at the table for this important discussion," John F. Clark, president and CEO of the center, said Thursday in a statement to ABC News. "The issue of child sex trafficking is a crucial concern for NCMEC."
Clark added, "We believe it’s essential to engage with all our partners in the federal government, Congress and the judiciary, as well as our law enforcement and non-profit partners to work together to prevent children from being sold for sex and help recover and provide services for victims."
ABC News' Ben Gittleson and Jordyn Phelps contributed to this report.
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