Congressional inquiry faults easing of restrictions as tens of thousands of youngsters filled U.S. facilities
Remember the masses of unaccompanied children and youth that were pouring across the United States’ border with Mexico last year? Whatever happened to all those kids?
According to a congressional investigation, thousands of them have just disappeared. And there’s concern that many of them have fallen into the clutches of human traffickers.
How could that happen? According to a 2008 law, unaccompanied alien children (UACs) who enter the U.S. are under the custody and care of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It is the department’s responsibility to move children out of over-occupied government shelters and into sponsors’ homes. But with the overwhelming influx of youngsters beginning in 2013, the government placed tens of thousands of the children in unscreened homes without writing down the phone numbers or addresses of the adults in charge, the investigation revealed.
World magazine reported:
Last year, Ohio courts charged six defendants with enslaving at least six migrant children from Guatemala on egg farms in Marion County. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, led a Senate investigation and found systemic lapses in the care for migrant children by HHS officials. The investigation found thousands of children fell into the hands of sex traffickers or sexual predators due to a lack of proper background checks and lax procedures. “It is intolerable that human trafficking — modern-day slavery — could occur in our own backyard,” Portman said at a Senate hearing Jan. 28. “Even more alarming is that a U.S. government agency was responsible.” The investigation found that HHS officials did not maintain consistent guidelines for placing children. Procedure dictates that family members of children receive precedence. But when family members were not found, HHS workers rushed the placement process. Officials stopped consistently fingerprinting adults seeking to claim the children. And in April 2014, the agency stopped requiring original birth certificates to prove sponsor identities.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., questioned two HHS officials about how they kept track of the thousands of children they are legally responsible for. He asked how many of the 90,000-plus children the HHS could contact if it needed to.
“We have no idea how many we could contact today,” said Mark Greenberg, the HHS assistant secretary of the Administration for Children and Families.
World said that beginning Jan. 25, HHS strengthened its criminal background checks for UAC sponsors.
“Up until three days ago, it was the policy of the HHS that it was okay if other adults in the house had been convicted of sex crimes for children,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. “This is what really drives me crazy.”
The Associated Press had more on the issue:
The procedures were increasingly relaxed as the number of young migrants rose in response to spiraling gang and drug violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, according to emails, agency memos and operations manuals obtained by AP, some under the Freedom of Information Act. First, the government stopped fingerprinting most adults seeking to claim the children. In April 2014, the agency stopped requiring original copies of birth certificates to prove most sponsors’ identities. The next month it decided not to complete forms that request sponsors’ personal and identifying information before sending many of the children to sponsors’ homes. Then, it eliminated FBI criminal history checks for many sponsors … Last year, a social worker visited an apartment complex in Fort Meyers, Florida, to see if it was suitable for a new placement. The government had sent more than a dozen other children to live there, but the social worker found nothing but an empty apartment, said Hilary Chester, associate director of anti-trafficking programs at U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, another federal contractor.