Federal government agencies took zero responsibility for placing a number of unaccompanied immigrant youth into the hands of human traffickers in 2014, where they were forced to work on egg farms in Ohio, a bipartisan Senate report revealed Wednesday.
The 52-page study, conducted by a subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, showed federal officials largely did not believe it was their job to ensure immigrant children — specifically those who crossed the border without their parents — did not end up in the hands of human traffickers or abusers after being placed with a government-approved sponsor. Although sponsors may sometimes be close family members, that’s not always the case.
“The Subcommittee has…learned that no federal agency accepts responsibility for [unaccompanied minors] placed with sponsors other than their parents from the time of placement until the immigration hearing,” the report stated. “[The Department of Health and Human Services] told the Subcommittee that its longstanding view has been that once a child is transferred to the care of a sponsor, HHS has no further power or responsibility.”
The report alleged HHS failed to conduct adequate background checks on child sponsors and had not made concerted efforts to follow up with the child afterward, to ensure they were not in danger.
Furthermore, the bipartisan report cited “major deficiencies…that leave the children at significant risk for trafficking and abuse and undermine our immigration system.”
HHS, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Justice (DOJ), for their part, have pinned the blame for those deficiencies on Congress for not passing comprehensive immigration reform legislation. In a joint statement, the agencies said the report “misses an opportunity to address decades of congressional inaction.”
The federal government’s refusal to ensure the welfare of unaccompanied minors mirrors its response to the reunification of families separated at the border under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.
While federal agencies like DHS and HHS may be to blame for glaring oversight that led hundreds of parents to be deported, and thousands of children to be taken from their families and placed in detention facilities with histories of abuse, it was the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that placed greater strain on those agencies’ resources. Federal agencies were forced to divert their attention from the more than 200,000 unaccompanied minors who have entered the United States over the last six years and focus instead on reuniting families split up under President Trump’s policy.
According to the Senate report, immigration courts currently have a whopping backlog of more than 700,000 cases, with many cases dragging on for over a year. Although the DOJ currently has the authority to hire 129 additional judges, Trump has made clear in the past that he doesn’t want more judges, but wants to hire additional ICE and border patrol agents instead.