US failed to protect immigrant minors

An investigation by the US Senate has found that federal authorities failed to adequately protect undocumented immigrant minors who entered the country unaccompanied by adults. Senator Rob Portman read a prepared statement on Thursday in front of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in which he declared that there were serious and systemic defects in the process used by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to release unaccompanied minors to sponsors, who then exploited them in a number of instances.

The hearing was told by Mark Greenberg, the acting assistant secretary of HHS, that new procedures have been instigated by the agency to try to prevent the abuse of minors once they have been released from government custody.

The probe was initiated by both Portman and Senator Claire McCaskill after an incident in Ohio – the latter’s home state – in which at least half a dozen Guatemalan children were forced to work long hours on Marion County egg farms, for which six people have been charged. Portman says there have been other instances of abuse found after children were released to guardians from government custody and that the subcommittee is investigating them.

“It is intolerable that human trafficking – modern-day slavery – could occur in our own backyard,” Portman notes. “But what makes the Marion cases even more alarming is that a US government agency was responsible for delivering some of the victims into the hands of their abusers.”

Around 90,000 immigrant minors have been placed with adult sponsors in the US by HHS in the last two years.