Senate tackles trafficking abuse of migrant children

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) huddles with Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) before Senate Judiciary hearing. (Credit: Chance Seales)

WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – The Senate Judiciary Committee will — one day — approve a new Supreme Court justice, but today members focused on the trafficking of unaccompanied minors form Latin America.

A new government report finds that child abusers, including sex traffickers, took advantage of deficiencies in the adult sponsor screening system following the 2014 border surge and gained custody of a portion of the 127,000 unaccompanied children resettled in the United States by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Some children were forced into hard labor. Others were sexually abused. Many fates are anyone’s guess.

Juan Osuna, director of DOJ’s immigration review unit, admitted that 40% of resettled children ultimately disappear and fall off federal authorities’ radar.

Senators press health officials

Senate Judiciary panel on child trafficking includes reps from HHS, CPB, ICE, GAO. (Credit: Chance Seales)
Senate Judiciary panel on child trafficking includes reps (left to right) from GAO, CPB, HHS, DOJ, ICE. (Credit: Chance Seales)

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) called the findings “troubling” and grilled Mark Greenberg, who oversees child resettlement for HHS.

“Your agency wants to wipe its hands clean after a child is placed with a sponsor,” suggested Judiciary Committee chairman Grassley to Mr. Greenberg during the question and answer portion.

The Iowa senator cited reports of HHS going soft on unqualified sponsors including: issuing numerous waivers, accepting photocopies of birth certificates, and not requiring universal fingerprinting.

It was these lax standards that endangered vulnerable children, said Grassley and his colleagues.

Another border surge

When an unaccompanied child is being placed in the United States, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that “87% of sponsors are parents or close family members.”

That leaves 13% of children in need of placement with an unrelated sponsor. Tragically, some of those sponsors used their positions to abuse minors.

The trafficking problem takes on new significance as the number of unaccompanied children once again surges.

More than 20,000 children showed up on America’s southern border in the last six months. That’s double the 10,000 unaccompanied minors who appeared during the same period last year, testified Customs and Border Patrol acting chief Ronald Vitiello.

HHS improves safeguards

Health and Human Services is now on the hot seat and working furiously to improve its safeguards.

The department has stepped up investigations and expanded background check requirements for non-parent adult sponsors. Additionally, HHS has beefed up inspections of holding facilities for new arrivals of children.

Senators indicated that they intend to keep their thumb on the agency until the problem is corrected to their satisfaction.

According to Tuesday’s hearing, only three percent of unaccompanied minors have been successfully returned to their home countries once taken into federal custody.

Follow Chance Seales on Twitter @ChanceSeales

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