Federal agencies have lost track of thousands of minors who crossed illegally into our country at the southern border. This is according to new reports.
Previously, this issue raised national alarm in 2018, and it spawned criticism of the previous administration’s immigration policies.
In 2021, the number of migrants—who are minors—disappearing from federal tracking has exploded due to the surging number of unaccompanied minors crossing our border.
Hopefully the congressional and public outrage over President Trump’s handling of the situation and the whereabouts of these underage migrants will be as vociferous toward President Joe Biden.
And that, as a society, we also prioritize concern for the 60,000 American children of all races in the foster care system who officials have managed to lose track of.
Their invisibility deserves outrage as well.
There are brewing crises at the U.S. southern border: COVID-19 poses a health crisis, drug trafficking poses a public safety crisis, and human trafficking poses a humanitarian crisis.
Children brought here illegally are caught up in all three.
The problems don’t end when they leave the government’s custody.
Axios exclusively reported yesterday that the federal government has lost track of one in three migrant children released from its custody.
By law, children who arrive at our southern border without a parent or legal guardian are placed in the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
While overseeing their care, HHS, through its Office of Refugee Resettlement initiatives, begins the process of finding parents, relatives, or suitable individuals here in the U.S to be sponsors for these minors.
The sponsors are supposed to undergo vigorous vetting to ensure child safety.
Once children are released from government custody to sponsors, HHS follows up with both. Unfortunately, the Biden administration is failing to do so, leaving thousands of children to potentially fall through the cracks.
Those “cracks” could be more trafficking and even human slavery.
Over 65,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the border illegally from January to May.
During that time, HHS released 32,000 minors but placed only 14,600 check-in calls.
In May, workers were unable to reach either the migrant child or the child’s sponsor for a third of the calls (37%) that they placed.
This was up from a quarter of calls at the start of the year.
This is troubling.
Without that personal touchpoint, the federal government is blind to the situation and conditions the minors may be in.
Many of these minors may have already been exposed to harm and abuse.
The harrowing trip through Central America and Mexico to our southern border is fraught with dangers for women and children.
According to a Doctors Without Border survey, one in three women—and likely more—were sexually abused along their journey.
Sadly, the fear of harm does not end for girls and boys when in the government’s custody or in the care of sponsors.
Minors lodged more than 4,500 complaints of sexual abuse against adult workers in federal detention facilities from 2014 to 2019.
Children could then be released to a sponsor with motives just as nefarious as those of the smugglers and other human traffickers at the southern border.
A recent federal probe found that dozens of teen migrants were released to labor traffickers who sent them to work on farms around the country.
The government is struggling to manage the surge of migrants including unaccompanied children at the southern border.
By hastily reversing some Trump immigration policies and changing the tone in Washington to a shrug of the shoulders toward illegal immigration rather than a firm stance, the Biden administration has made coming to the U.S. more promising to desperate migrants and more lucrative for human traffickers.
Consequently, we have an unabated surge in the flow of illegal immigration.
HHS may not be responsible for the minors released from their custody.
However, it’s on the shoulders of the federal government to ensure that it does not release children, who are already in vulnerable positions, to people who will exploit that vulnerability.
Stronger vetting of sponsors was a key recommendation from a 2016 Senate subcommittee report that found that a lack of vetting allowed a group of young migrants to be released to traffickers who forced them to live in subhuman conditions and work on a poultry farm in Ohio.
A good number of these migrant children will end up in transitional or permanent foster care where they may continue to be victims.
Sadly, abuse and exploitation are common experiences of American children in the foster care system as well. Heartbreaking stories abound of children shuffled through the foster care system who suffer sexual abuse.
Over 80% of girls in foster care reported sexual abuse, and two out of three of them were sexually abused by more than one individual according to one study.
We can only hope that the majority of children in the system find themselves in safe and loving environments. However, it is incumbent on officials to strictly vet individuals who could be foster care parents or sponsors to migrant children and to remove children from abusive and harmful situations as quickly as possible.
Instead, these reports suggest that federal officials are focused on getting migrant minors out of their facilities as quickly as possible.
Border crossings by minors hit an all-time record in July.
This problem will likely only be compounded as time goes by unless the Biden administration addresses illegal immigration at the southern border and put more effort into tracking these minors to ensure that they don’t fall through the cracks.