The United States Government has lost track of nearly 1,500 immigrant children who were placed in sponsor homes by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for the care of unaccompanied immigrant minors.
Anti-immigrant conservatives like Rick Santorum began defending the government right out of the gates, claiming that the children aren’t really lost.
“They were placed in vetted homes. The question is, they haven’t had communication with these previously vetted sponsors. Does that mean that they’re lost? No. That means there’s a process going on right now to try and find why these sponsors haven’t checked back in to give us their location.”
So, obviously, it’s the sponsors who are to blame in this situation and not the federal government who placed them with those sponsors in the first place.
While the missing children are news to us civilians, the federal government was actually alerted to the issue last month, when Steven Wagner, a top official within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), disclosed the figure to a Senate subcommittee during a discussion of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which falls under the jurisdiction of the HHS.
The ORR is a division of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), of which Wagner is the acting assistant secretary.
Wagner is reported as saying that the HHS was “unable to determine with certainty the whereabouts” of no less than 1,475 children.
Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) was having none of it, and issued a blistering criticism of HHS:
“You are the worst foster parents in the world. You don’t even know where they are. We are failing. I don’t think there is any doubt about it. And when we fail kids that makes me angry.”
As recently as 2016, the Associated Press (AP) discovered that more than 24 children who had been placed in sponsor homes were ultimately subjected to sexual assault, starvation, and forced, unpaid labor.
Two years and nearly 1,500 missing kids later and some are beginning to raise the possibility of human trafficking.
In Ohio in 2013, eight teenagers from Guatemala were placed with human traffickers who forced the teens to work on egg farms and who threatened them with death if they did not obey.
Senator Rob Portman, who chairs the subcommittee in question, began investigating the issue after the human trafficking incident in his home state came to light, and gave HHS until yesterday to propose a plan for improved monitoring.
“These kids, regardless of their immigration status, deserve to be treated properly, not abused or trafficked. This is all about accountability.”
Instead, HHS doubled down on their assertion that the children are not lost and that it is the sponsors’ fault for not contacting the ORR.
Meanwhile, the hashtag #WhereAreTheChildren has gone viral, with thousands voicing their outrage at the government’s obvious neglect and ineptitude as well as calling out specific cases.
Ricardo de Anda, a human rights lawyer based in Texas, tweeted about one of his clients whose infant was taken from her and is now missing:
Naturally, the president of the United States responded in his classically tone-deaf way, spewing misinformation and inciting partisan rancor.
But of course, such an obvious attempt at distraction only makes his ploy that much more transparent.
Iron Triangle Press will continue to cover this story as it develops.