More than 300 unaccompanied immigrant children live with a sponsor who already covers others
Photo: GUILLERMO ARIAS / AFP / Getty Images
A new audit of Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) revealed that under the Biden Administration at least 340 unaccompanied immigrant children were released to live under the roof of a sponsored person who is not their relative and who already houses at least two other minors, generating a concern among advocates who believe that children could be victims of child exploitation, NBC News reported.
The agency in charge of overseeing the care and release of unaccompanied immigrant minors, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)reported that the number of minors who were sent with sponsors increased from 2021 to 2022, not only in real terms, but as a percentage.
“We see in our own work that some children are placed in settings where they may not know the person and they are treated as second-class citizens in the family and under pressure to work,” said Wendy Young, president of Kids un Need, which advocates for unaccompanied immigrant children.
It was also found that non-family sponsors met guidelines and included FBI-required background checks, sex offender checks, child abuse and neglect registration applications, plus, in some cases, home studies, but many already care for at least two minors , which for immigrant advocates is a red flag for child labor trafficking.
However, officials indicated that the number of children released to sponsors who are already sponsoring two or more children is at least 1% of the total number of children released to family members since the beginning of 2021.
ORR has been targeted after the Department of Labor disclosed that more than 100 minors, all unaccompanied immigrants from Guatemala, They work cleaning slaughterhouses in the Midwest.
It's known that since 2018 there has been a 69% increase in employed children pushed by the expedited placement of unaccompanied children to limit their stay in ORR care.
Young told the aforementioned outlet that at this time “we are seeing too many troubling examples of where that process is failing. The most extreme is that there is evidence that they have been releasing them into exploitative work situations.”
Meanwhile, Mónica Meier, who is in charge of the social work program of the Legal Center for Immigrants in Nebraska, pointed out that unaccompanied minors wish to work, but they don't know that at 12 they shouldn't be working all night in a meat packing plant where there is real danger.
It is unknown in which parts of the country the HHS audit was conducted about the 344 immigrant children released, but 12 of those children are known to have escaped and 12 more were referred to child protective services.
HHS' commitment to unaccompanied children will lead to an Innovation and Accountability team within the ORR director's office to “focus on identifying and mitigating opportunities for potential fraud, abuse and exploitation” among unaccompanied immigrant children in the next four months.
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