Protecting Unacommpanied Alien Children from Trafficking and Abuse

Thousands of children enter the U.S. annually unaccompanied by family or relatives.  These children are taken into custody and placed with guardians or sponsors by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) pending immigration procedures.Immigrant children at a private detention facility, photo provided by ICE

On the heels of concern regarding family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the ongoing effort to reunify these families, comes this Staff Report from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs: ‘Protecting Unaccompanied Alien Children from Trafficking and Other Abuses: The Role of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.’

This report addresses concerns that the HHS has not adequately performed its duties in ensuring the appropriate and safe placement of unaccompanied alien children (UACs).  The Subcommittee investigation concluded that HHS “policies and procedures are inadequate to protect the children in the agency’s care,” in particular to protect them from human trafficking and abuse.

Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE) released this bipartisan report ahead of today’s hearing before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations regarding the Investigation into HHS procedures for handling UACs.

Some key findings in the report suggest that the HHS fails to

  • adequately understand the alleged relationships between the UAC and placement guardians,
  • detect the placement of multiple unrelated children in with a single sponsor which implies possible human trafficking,
  • conduct adequate background checks,
  • conduct home studies and visits,
  • enforce proper post-placement procedures, allowing sponsors to limit supervisorial access to UACs,
  • enforce sponsor obligations to attend immigration proceedings of the UAC, and
  • maintain a codified and transparent policy regarding the placement of UACs.

These deficiencies expose UACs to an unacceptable level of risk of human trafficking and abuse.  The report states that HHS has largely ignored recommendations and suggestions for improvement since 2014, and implores the current Administration to finally address these ongoing concerns.

 

More information can be found in the HSDL Featured Topic on Border Security.

 

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Some links in this article require access to the CHDS access, click here to read this report if you cannot link to them.