An alarming new Senate report was released late last week that confirmed the US Department of Health and Human Services placed more than a dozen immigrant children in the custody of human traffickers disguised as caregivers. The oversight was apparently due to a lack of background checks conducted on the caregivers. Lawmakers said the federal agency had not followed basic practices of child welfare agencies, such as making home visits, in its ongoing processing of minors who arrive at the border without a guardian.
After a human trafficking ring in Marion, Ohio was uncovered last year by law enforcement, the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations opened its inquiry. At least six children were lured to the United States from Guatamela, and then made to work on egg farms. The children, as young as 14, had been in federal custody before being entrusted to the traffickers. Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio and the chairman of the subcommittee commented, “What makes the Marion cases even more alarming is that a U.S. government agency was responsible for delivering some of the victims into the hands of their abusers.” In addition to the Marion cases, the investigation found evidence that 13 other children had been trafficked after officials handed them over to adults who were supposed to care for them during their immigration proceedings. 15 other cases also showed some signs of trafficking.
What becomes even more frightening is that the report states it is unclear how many of the approximately 90,000 children the agency had placed in the past two years fall prey to traffickers, because it can’t keep track of all the cases. As detention centers have struggled to keep up with the wave of unaccompanied children coming through the southern border in the last 2 years, the Department of Health and Human Services began placing children in the custody of sponsors who could help them while their immigration cases were reviewed. In response to the report, the agency said it had taken measures to strengthen its system, collecting information to subject potential sponsors and caregivers in a household to criminal background checks, while bolstering other screening procedures.