Congress Holds Hearing on Exploited Unaccompanied Alien Children
On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Integrity, Security, and Enforcement held an oversight hearing on the Biden Administration’s handling of unaccompanied alien children (UACs). The Committee’s focus was examining “the unprecedented surge of unaccompanied alien children at the southwest border and how open-border policies enable the exploitation of those children.”
The United States has seen more than a 330 percent surge in average monthly Border Patrol (BP) apprehensions of UACs under the Biden Administration. Total apprehensions went from about 4,000 a month to more than 13,000, while annual apprehensions increased from 30,557 in fiscal year 2020 to 149,093 in fiscal year 2022.
According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the office that oversees the UAC program, anywhere from 70-80 percent of UACs encountered in the last ten years are over 15 years of age, while over the same period about 70% of UACs encountered are male. Some of the UACs encountered over the last decade are even members of criminal gangs.
The Committee heard from several witnesses, including:
- Tara Lee Rodas, Health and Human Services Whistleblower, Federal Inspector General Employee
- Sheena Rodriguez, Founder and President, Alliance for a Safe Texas
- Jessica Vaughan, Director of Policy Studies, Center for Immigration Studies
- Bob Carey, former Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement under President Obama
Tara Lee Rodas, the whistleblower who was sent to the border under the Biden Administration to help unite children with sponsors, told Congress, “[w]hether intentional or not, it can be argued that the U.S. Government has become the middleman in a large scale, multi-billion dollar, child trafficking operation run by bad actors seeking to profit off the lives of children.”
Jessica Vaughan, a policy expert on unaccompanied children, recommended that Congress take action to close loopholes in the law that allows children to be released to smugglers, traffickers, and employers who illegally employ the children. Specifically, she advised that Congress amend the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) to swiftly repatriate children who have been screened for trafficking and found not to be at risk if returned. She also suggested that Congress robustly fund Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to boost its anti-trafficking efforts and increase worksite enforcement.
Bob Carey, the Democrats’ witness and former head of ORR, did not have any suggestions for slowing the flow of children crossing the border alone but recommended that the agency provide more post-release services to unaccompanied children. Democrat leaders also applauded ORR for announcing an audit of UAC sponsors at a House Oversight hearing last week, where the head of ORR said that it was conducting “an ongoing, concurrent review of current vetting requirements for potential sponsors who have previously sponsored unaccompanied children.” It should be noted, however, that ORR’s review is limited in scope, only reviewing individuals who have sponsored children in the past rather than reviewing all vetting requirements and determining how to strengthen those requirements across the board for every sponsor.
Wednesday’s hearing was led by Chairman Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), who pointed out how President Biden on his first day in office terminated critical policies like Remain in Mexico and finishing the border wall. This, McClintock said, produced “the largest illegal mass migration in history,” and only encouraged more migrants to come. He finished by arguing that, “a large majority of so-called unaccompanied children are late teenagers or young men claiming to be minors.”
Congressman Chip Roy (R-Texas) asked witnesses if they were proud of the system and the fact that more than 356,000 unaccompanied children have entered the country since President Biden took office. He said, “[s]omehow, in the greatest country in the world, we think this is a system we should defend.”
The hearing can be viewed by clicking here.