By Caden Pearson
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has demanded the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigate the exploitation of thousands of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) who have been caught up in child smuggling and child labor operations.
Data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows that around 345,000 minors have come across the border unaccompanied since early 2021 when President Joe Biden took office. A New York Times report suggests that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has lost contact with 85,000 of these minors.
In a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray on Friday, Hawley blamed the Biden administration’s loosening of border protection policies for the situation.
“The Biden Administration is morally responsible for their fate. The President lifted Title 42 restrictions on unaccompanied children in early 2021,” he wrote (pdf). “Reporting reveals that HHS loosened vetting processes for sponsors and retaliated against whistleblowers who raised these concerns. As a result, thousands of children have been handed over to modern-day slave traders.”
The senator from Missouri stated that as a result of the president’s actions, these lost minors are forced into factory work under punishing conditions, denied food and education, fear for their lives, and suffer sexual violence.
“In a country that claims to value the rule of law and the protection of children, this is unconscionable,” he added.
Xavier Becerra Denies Number of Missing Children
In late March, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra denied knowledge of the claim that 85,000 UACs were unaccounted for.
“I have never heard that number of 85,000, I don’t know where it comes from and … so I would say it doesn’t sound at all to be realistic, and what we do is we try and follow up as best we can with these kids,” Becerra said at a Senate Finance Committee.
“Congress has given us certain authorities. Our authorities end when we have found a suitable sponsor to place that child with. We try and do some follow-up, but neither the child or the sponsor is actually obligated to follow up with us,” he added.
In addition to urging the FBI to mount a “full-scale” effort to locate the missing children and bring to justice the criminals who are holding them in modern-day slavery, Hawley also demanded a probe into HHS and the Department of Homeland Security.
“The FBI must also investigate HHS and the Department of Homeland Security for their role in facilitating the exploitation of these children, in violation of the law,” Hawley wrote.
“The pervasive maltreatment of migrant children plainly violates both the Fair Labor Standards Act, which prohibits the abuse of underage workers, and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which designates human trafficking offenses as federal crimes,” Hawley wrote.
Hawley demanded a “full report” from the FBI priority by May 25.
Earlier this week, an HHS whistleblower testified before Congress about how the federal government is acting as a “middleman” for a “multi-billion-dollar child trafficking operation.”
The whistleblower, Tara Lee Rodas, appeared as a witness at “The Biden Border Crisis: Exploitation of Unaccompanied Alien Children” hearing held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Integrity, Security, and Enforcement.
She stated that unaccompanied children have been “suffering in the shadows” of the U.S. immigration system for nearly a decade.
“I have to confess I knew nothing about their suffering until 2021 when I volunteered to help the Biden administration with the crisis at the southern border as part of operation Artemis,” Rodas said at the hearing.
The whistleblower said she was deployed to help HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) reunite UACs with adult sponsors in the United States.
“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 U.S. border, and ends when ORR delivers a child to a sponsor—some sponsors are criminals and traffickers and members of transnational criminal organizations, some sponsors view children as commodities and assets to be used for earning income.”
Rodas testified that in some cases, she witnessed adult sponsors being permitted to take in “10, 20, 30, and 40” children without any concerns from HHS.
“I saw sponsors trying to simultaneously sponsor children from multiple ORR sites at one time. I saw sponsors using multiple addresses to obtain sponsorships of children, and I saw numerous cases of children in debt bondage—and the child knew they had to stay with the sponsor until the debt was paid,” the whistleblower said.
On Thursday, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) wrote to Becerra demanding answers about the whistleblower’s claims.
“I am deeply concerned regarding the recent reports that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has mishandled unaccompanied migrant children by placing them with unvetted sponsors, leading to their exploitation and forced labor,” Blackburn wrote.
The Epoch Times contacted HHS for comment.
Experts have described this as the “ugly side” of supporting so-called “dreamers” seeking to come to America but who find themselves trapped in what has been described as modern-day slavery.
The number of unaccompanied children entering the United States has tripled under the Biden administration. This has led to a surge in child labor trafficking as well as abuse and neglect, according to experts.
In the first two years of Biden’s presidency, almost 300,000 UACs arrived at the border and were released into the U.S. interior with adult sponsors. However, only a small percentage of these sponsors were biological relatives of the children.