During a hearing in the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Judiciary last week, whistleblower Tara Lee Rodas from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) testified about how the US government has effectively become a “middleman” in the highly lucrative trafficking of Latin American children at the Mexico-US border.
According to U.S. Customs statistics, the number of unaccompanied children arriving at the border has increased from just over 33,000 in 2020 to over 146,000 in 2021 – and 152,000 in 2022. In the first months of 2023 alone, over 70,000 unaccompanied children have been encountered, Fox News notes.
When the children are found at the border, they are transferred to Health and Human Services (HHS) and then taken care of by a sponsor – usually a parent or other family member already in the United States.
Under the Biden administration, however, a number of reports have warned that agency officials have failed to make contact with over 85,000 of the migrant children. More recently, there have also been reports of ignoring signs of what has been described as an “explosive” increase in child labor, with migrant children forced into slave labor to pay their traffickers, working in very difficult conditions.
Tara Lee Rodas, who has a background with HHS, says that unaccompanied children are forced to “work overnight shifts in slaughterhouses, factories and restaurants to pay their debts to smugglers and traffickers” and that some of the children are also forced into prostitution. She describes how she started volunteering to help migrant minors under the auspices of HHS and how it didn’t turn out the way she expected.
– I thought I was going to help place children in loving homes. Instead, I discovered that children are being trafficked through a sophisticated network, that begins with recruiting in home country, smuggling to the US border, and ends when ORR delivers a child to a sponsor. Some sponsors are criminals and traffickers and members of trans-national criminal organizations. Some sponsors view children as commodities and assets to be used for earning income. This is why we are witnessing an explosion of labor trafficking, the whistleblower explains.
– Now, whether it’s intentional or not, it could be argued, that the United States government has become the middleman in a large-scale, multi-billion-dollar child trafficking operation that is run by bad actors seeking to profit off of the lives of children, she continues.
“Modern-day slavery with wicked overlords”
She goes on to describe her observations that some of the children spoke only Indian dialects and therefore could not communicate at all with government officials and were thus completely at the mercy of their sponsors, as well as “numerous cases” of children being forced to work for their sponsor until the debt was paid off.
– Realizing that we were not offering the children the American dream, but instead putting them in modern-day slavery with wicked overlords, was a terrible revelation. A terrible revelation. These children are a captive victim population with no access to law enforcement or knowledge of their rights. They are extorted, abused, neglected, and that is why I blew the whistle in 2021, she concludes.
Others who come into contact with migrant children in their work also report that the children have told them how criminal cartels transported them through Mexico and kept them in warehouses guarded by armed guards.
Jessica Vaughn of the Center for Immigration Studies says the system needs to change.
– They have been carelessly funneled through the custody of U.S. government agencies and contractors, and handed off to very lightly vetted sponsors (who are usually also here illegally) in our communities without regard to their safety and well-being. There is no question that the system for processing minors who cross illegally is dysfunctional, and has been for some time, and needs to be fixed.
Republican Senators Marsha Blackburn and Josh Hawley are demanding that federal officials respond to the allegations and detail how they may have “lost” 85,000 migrant children in two years.
“The FBI must mount a full-scale effort to locate these missing children and to bring to justice the criminals who are holding them in modern-day slavery”, Hawley writes, and goes on to call the Biden administration morally responsible for the situation.