Each year, tens of thousands of children enter the United States without their parents or guardians. Most of the undocumented immigrant youths come from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and only cross the borders to flee violence, drug cartels and domestic abuse.
These unaccompanied minors think of the U.S. as a safe harbor, a chance at a better life, though unfortunately, many of these young ones fall in to the hands of human traffickers who not only force them to work under horrible conditions with little to no pay, but also starve and sexually assault them.
As an investigative report by The Washington Post has revealed, over the past four years, a surge of children flowing across the U.S.-Mexico border has overwhelmed federal officials who are responsible for their safekeeping. The authorities have stopped more than 125,000 minors at the border since 2011, placing most of them in shelters funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement.
While it’s a well-documented fact that the condition of such shelters is beyond unsatisfactory, the thing that is even scarier than its unhygienic state is that authorities apparently release these minors to people with criminal records, according to a whistleblower.
Moreover, a large number of kids just stop showing up to immigration hearings and vanish.
“We have a large percentage of these kids that disappear, and I don’t know what happens to them,” said Jessica Ramos, a lawyer with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, a nonprofit that represents children in immigration proceedings.
A score of children in the shelter had their parents of family members already living in the U.S., but instead of being handed over to them, they fall in the wrong hands.
The newspaper cited an incident involving a young boy from Guatemala who traveled hundreds of miles into the country and was placed in a government-funded shelter. Although he had an uncle in Florida, Carlos Enrique Pascual, the shelter somehow released him to human traffickers who held him captive in a cramped, roach-infested trailer along with eight other boys.
The migrant minors were working at Trillium Farms, one of the country’s largest egg producers. They worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, de-beaking hens and cleaning cages for less than $2 per day. The police rescued the teenagers in December 2014.
Andrea Helling, a representative for the Department of Health and Human Services, which also includes the Office of Refugee Resettlement, acknowledged that the agency briefly relaxed identity requirements for family members collecting children at the height of the surge in May 2014.
However, since then, the agency has reportedly strengthened its efforts to provide the minors a safe home by reinstituting fingerprint requirement for people who claim children from federally funded shelters. They also require caseworkers to call and check up on children within 30 days of their release.
“We are committed to placement of unaccompanied children with appropriate sponsors that serve the best interest of the child,” Bob Carey, the agency’s director, said in a statement.
While it’s understandable that the surge in migration has made things harder for the authorities, their incompetence is not justifiable. It’s also safe to say that the egg-farm slavery case wasn’t a one-off; there must have been other similar cases which went unreported.