WASHINGTON – Two senators on Thursday revealed serious abuses suffered by some undocumented migrant children, most from Central America and whom the U.S. government had placed in the custody of criminals who exploited them both sexually and at work.
They include “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,” said Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill at a congressional hearing.
McCaskill’s accusations are based on an investigation, undertaken together with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), exposing alleged mistakes by the Department of Health and Human Services.
HHS is responsible for finding safe homes in which to place the children while the justice system determines if they may remain in the country.
In the investigation’s report, the senators say that 13 minors had been the victims of people smuggling and another 15 could have suffered abuses, although they emphasize that it is impossible to know the total number of victims because the HHS has no way to follow the cases.
“HHS placed one 16-year-old with a sponsor who claimed to be her cousin. In fact, he was completely unrelated to her and had paid for her to come to the U.S. ... The minor ... was forced to have sex with her sponsor,” said McCaskill.
Most of the abuses enumerated by the senators were labor-related, and both McCaskill and Portman, chairman of the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, accused the HHS of having “failed to address systematic deficiencies in their placement process.”