According to a Senate subcommittee testimony last week, nearly 1,500 immigrant children were lost in government arranged foster homes last year, with the suspicion that many of them were kidnapped by human traffickers.
During the hearing, Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota told child protection representatives with the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) that they were “the worst foster parents in the world.”
“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,” Heitkamp said.
Many of the children are still unaccounted for, but some of them who have been found were held captive by human traffickers in terrible conditions.
Subcommittee Chairman Senator Rob Portman said that an investigation into the lost children began after the HHS put eight children from Guatemala into the custody of human traffickers, who forced them to work on a farm for 12 hours a day without pay.
“It is intolerable that human trafficking — modern-day slavery — could occur in our own backyard. What makes the Marion cases even more alarming is that a U.S. government agency was responsible for delivering some of the victims into the hands of their abusers,” Portman said after learning of the case.
“Whatever your views on immigration policy, everyone can agree that the administration has a responsibility to ensure the safety of the migrant kids that have entered government custody until their immigration court date,” Portman said.
Since that incident came to light, HHS and The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) promised to check up on the unaccompanied immigrant children who passed through their care. After these checkups, it was revealed that many more children were slipping through the cracks than anyone anticipated.
Acting assistant secretary at HHS, Steven Wagner, told the committee that between October and December of 2017, HHS called 7,635 children that the agency placed with sponsors and they were only able to track down 6,075 of them. At least 28 of them had reportedly run away, five others were deported, 52 were living with someone else and 1,475 were missing.