FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JANUARY 28, 2016
Contact: Sarah Feldman – 202-228-6263
***Broadcasters: FTP links, MP4, and MP3, to follow.
WASHINGTON – Excoriating federal agency officials to “quit thinking about what’s on paper and start thinking about these children,” U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill today helped lead a bipartisan Senate hearing to take aim at human trafficking of children in the U.S.
McCaskill—a former prosecutor—told the story of a 16-year old who, while awaiting an immigration hearing, was placed with an individual claiming to be the minor’s cousin.
“In fact, he was completely unrelated to her and had paid for her to come to the U.S. as a sort of mail-order bride. The minor, who had endured a sexual assault in her home country, was forced to have sex with her sponsor,” McCaskill recounted. “In another case, a 17-year old was released to an unrelated ‘family friend’ who reported living with three additional unrelated adult men. [The Department of Health and Human Services] released this teen to the sponsor without conducting background checks on any of the unrelated adult men with whom he would be living, without conducting a home study of his sponsor’s home, and without providing him with post-release services. Last June, this minor contacted HHS to let the agency know his ‘sponsor’ was actually the son of a labor recruiter, who had approached the teen in Guatemala about an opportunity to work in the U.S. Upon being placed by HHS with the sponsor, the minor was forced to work almost 12 hours per day in conditions that made him sick. The teen ultimately ended up living in a home belonging to his employer, along with 14 other employees, before running away.
“Similar examples fill the case files reviewed by the Subcommittee… vulnerable and traumatized minors abused by their sponsors, or forced to engage in backbreaking labor for little or no pay, while being housed in unsanitary and dangerous conditions,” McCaskill added. “This is not just a failure of our moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable—it is a failure of a legal obligation as well.”
Today’s Senate hearing was the result of a six-month investigation into the federal government’s policies and procedures for placing unaccompanied alien children with adult sponsors by McCaskill and Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio—the top-ranking members of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
“Senator McCaskill and I started this investigation because of public reports,” Portman said. “When we learned the details of these cases, we were shocked.”
Click HERE to read the full bipartisan report resulting from McCaskill and Portman’s investigation. Among the Subcommittee’s findings:
- The Department of Health and Human Services’ process for verifying the alleged relationship between an unaccompanied minor and an individual other than a parent, guardian, or close family member is unreliable and vulnerable to abuse.
- The agency is unable to detect when a sponsor or group of related sponsors is seeking custody of multiple unrelated children.
- The agency has failed to conduct adequate background checks.
- The agency does not adequately conduct home studies.
- After a child’s release to a sponsor, the agency allows sponsors to refuse post-release services offered to the child—and even to bar contact between the child and an HHS care provider attempting to provide those services.
- Many unaccompanied minors fail to appear at immigration proceedings.
McCaskill also used today’s hearings to repeatedly press agency officials on their contention that they lack legal responsibility to implement further safeguards for children—specifically when those minors fail to appear at their immigration hearings. McCaskill demanded those officials deliver to her within one week any evidence to support their claim that they lack legal authority to better protect minors—an argument at which the Senators on the panel scoffed.
“How can we possibly not take in all seriousness the tragic situation of these children that are fleeing situations that are unimaginable to us?” asked Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.
Today’s hearing follows a separate investigation by Portman and McCaskill’s subcommittee into sex trafficking, particularly trafficking of children, and the notorious website Backpage.com.
Visit mccaskill.senate.gov/accountability to learn more about McCaskill’s fight to strengthen accountability in Washington.