By Selene Rodriguez for the Daily Caller Foundation
What is happening along our international borders today is not just about illegal immigration or drug smuggling. It’s also about the rapid increase in human trafficking and modern-day slavery, which is flourishing with the chaos that open borders facilitate.
With a record number of unaccompanied minors crossing into the U.S., it has become increasingly difficult to ensure they are leaving government care and going into safe, financially secure situations with people who will care for them. This disorder sets the stage for unaccountability and abuse of the system.
It is not uncommon that when Border Patrol agents and law enforcement officers come across unaccompanied minors, they find them with a phone number and name attached to them. Most times, the minor does not know and has never met the person that they are supposed to be handed over to. Recent investigations are revealing the truth of what happens to many of these most vulnerable children.
They are being exploited, abused, and trafficked.
Unaccompanied minors go into the Unaccompanied Children (UC) Program managed by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (OOR) within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), an operational division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Once children enter OOR care, they are put in contact with their parents, guardians, or relatives, if known, and the process of finding a sponsor begins.
As of April 17, 2023, there are approximately 7,380 unaccompanied children in HHS care. The average length of time an unaccompanied child remains in ORR’s care is 25 days.
Tara Lee Rodas revealed in an interview that often, sponsors are typically not citizens, permanent residents, nor do they have a legal status in the U.S.
Minors are coming forward revealing their abuse. One young female explained that her sponsor was forcing her to engage in sexual acts for money. Antonio Diaz Mendez, a 14-year-old, claimed that he had to earn money to repay his debts and was working long shifts in a warehouse. He hadn’t seen his sponsor in months.
Due to the total chaos associated with processing over 6,000 illegal aliens each day, U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) agents simply do not have time to conduct thorough investigative interviews to develop the articulable suspicion of trafficking, or even assess a claimed family relationship with co-travelers in any meaningful way. In all but the most egregious events, agents are forced to accept the information being provided at face value.
It is also important to note that many victims of trafficking do not know they are being trafficked when they initially enter the country illegally. They are often still under the belief that the smuggler is just providing a service to get them into the U.S. under the radar. They don’t find out the truth until it is too late.
Under prior administrations, as the border security environment was constantly improving and illegal immigration was slowing down dramatically, agents had more time to conduct in-depth interviews and identify inconsistencies in claimed family members’ stories. Agents identified countless cases where they were able to get a child or adult to admit they were not related. We will never know for sure how many children were rescued before they were victimized further.
Chaos provides cover for all types of criminal activity. As a direct result of the catch-and-release polices implemented by the Biden administration, our international border with Mexico and our immigration process for unaccompanied alien children have devolved into total chaos. Chaos that is ripe for exploitation by human traffickers.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Deterrence policies and programs work. USBP has countless examples to show that if you simply enforce the law, hold people accountable and avoid releasing aliens into the U.S. until after a judge has adjudicated their case, cross border illegal entries dramatically decrease. This immediately increases the time that agents can investigate and mitigate more sophisticated criminal schemes like narcotics smuggling and human trafficking.
Some children are fortunate to make it out of these situations by running away and seeking help, or due to the diligent efforts of citizens who are paying attention—citizens like Jallyn Sualog, who was removed from her position at HHS after raising concerns over the phenomenon.
Tragically, there are likely hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of children who will be enslaved to labor and sex work for most of their lives.
A safe and secure border will help ensure children are less likely to be put in harm’s way and support a system that can more effectively place them in proper homes. Getting there will require bipartisan efforts to regain operational control of the border.
Once that is underway, substantial reform can be enacted to hold HHS more accountable to the children they are responsible for.
In the U.S., almost no group is more vulnerable to falling victim than children migrants who have no legal guardian to ensure their safety.
We must work toward restricting human trafficking by securing and maintaining our borders. Customs and Border Protection personnel should be given every tool at their disposal to intercept and stop human trafficking efforts, both at and between ports of entry.
Selene Rodriguez is the Assistant Director of Federal Affairs at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. She served as an Intelligence Specialist in the U.S. Marine Corps and is completing her MA in Political Science at Texas State University.
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