Flashback: Obama Administration Placed Central American Children with Human Traffickers


The Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy has received significant criticism from both sides of the aisle in recent weeks over reports of children and their parents being separated after crossing the border.

In addition to widespread denunciation of the practice, some lawmakers are calling on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign because of the agency’s handling of border security, NBC News reported.

As of Tuesday, at least 13 elected Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have publicly indicated that they believe Nielsen should step down.

“We have zero tolerance for your neglect and for your policy of selecting — of separating children from their parents,” Pelosi said.

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The controversy is the latest humanitarian issue to arise out of American immigration policy, and the problem has plagued presidents prior to Donald Trump.

As The Washington Post reported in 2016, the Obama administration came to a close with a border scandal of its own involving allegations that immigration minors were mistreated.

Specifically, a congressional investigation found that the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement did not provide adequate research or supervision for the adults who claimed custody of the unaccompanied minors.

The probe was launched on the request of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, following a sharp uptick in the number of children crossing the border from Central America during the previous five years. He was motivated to initiate the investigation after a group of Guatemalan teens were discovered in Marion, Ohio, where human traffickers had forced them into physical labor.

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Six months later, a report found that the federal government’s “policies and procedures were inadequate to protect the children in the agency’s care.”

Portman described the situation as “intolerable” in a statement at the time and the report led to a policy review by the Department of Health and Human Services.

“It is intolerable that human trafficking — modern-day slavery — could occur in our own backyard,” Portman said. “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.”

In addition to the evidence that fueled this interest in the border situation, the report also found dozens of cases in which minors who were also released to individuals were likely subjected to human trafficking after being released to sponsors.

The report concluded that “HHS places children with individuals about whom it knows relatively little and without verifying the limited information provided by sponsors about their alleged relationship with the child.”

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In some cases, the investigation found that even children released to immediate family members were not always safe. A government caseworker allegedly released an El Salvadoran boy to his father after the child claimed the parent had been physically abusive.

The same boy reportedly later contacted authorities to describe abuse including forced labor and living on a starvation diet in a basement.

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Chris Agee is an American journalist with more than 15 years of experience in a wide range of newsrooms.
Chris Agee is an American journalist with more than 15 years of experience in a variety of newsroom settings. After covering crime and other beats for newspapers and radio stations across the U.S., he served as managing editor at Western Journalism until 2017. He has also been a regular guest and guest host on several syndicated radio programs. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with his wife and son.
Texas Press Association, Best News Writing - 2012
Bachelor of Arts, Journalism - Averett University
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