When it comes to the Biden administration‘s handling of the border crisis, there has been a lot of criticism from both sides. Republicans have blamed the Biden administration for the influx of unaccompanied children, while Democrats have pointed out that the issue has been around for years. However, one thing that both sides have largely failed to address is the role that the U.S. has played in the child migrant smuggling network.
Recently, a hearing was held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Integrity, Security and Enforcement, which included Health and Human Services (HHS) whistleblower Tara Lee Rodas as a witness. Rodas, who was detailed with HHS at an Emergency Intake Site in Pomona, California, on Wednesday, told lawmakers about what she experienced on the ground. According to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics, the number of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) who arrive at the border has swelled from 33,239 in fiscal year 2020 to more than 146,000 in fiscal year 2021 and 152,000 in fiscal year 2022. So far in fiscal year 2023, there have been more than 70,000 encounters of UACs.
When child migrants are encountered at the border, they are transferred into the custody of HHS and then united with a sponsor — typically a parent or family member already in the U.S. However, Rodas revealed that many of these children were not united with their sponsors, but instead were forced into the labor force and were being exploited by their “sponsors.” The New York Times reported how officials reportedly ignored signs of “explosive” growth in the child labor force, a fact that Rodas confirmed in her testimony. Rodas described how she saw children becoming captive to their “sponsors” as they couldn’t seek help in English or Spanish and sponsors using multiple addresses to obtain sponsorships of children.
The current administration has been hit by a number of reports detailing a rise in child exploitation, and Rodas made it clear that she does not see this as a political issue, but as a humanitarian one. She called for greater oversight and transparency from HHS, including from the Office of Inspector General, the stopping of “retaliation” against whistleblowers, an end to a “culture of speed over safety” and a requirement that sponsors report to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The exploitation of UACs is a crisis that has been going on for nearly 10 years, and it is one that must be addressed. It is time for Congress to take action and put an end to this crisis, and to safeguard the lives of these vulnerable children. The U.S. must be held accountable for its role in the child migrant smuggling network and must work to put an end to the exploitation of UACs.