Migrant children traveling to Houston alone face trafficking risks


Migrant children who travel to the U.S. without a parent or guardian face risks of human trafficking and abuse when they’re released from government custody, according to a new report by U.S. Senate Republicans. 

The well-being of these kids has come under increased scrutiny as record numbers of unaccompanied migrant children have been crossing the southwest border. More of these children and teens come to Harris County than any other place — in the country — roughly 35,000 since 2014, according to government data. 

The analysis identified various weaknesses in the government’s procedures to prevent children from being placed with adult sponsors who may pose a threat to their health and safety, according to findings published Monday by the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Many migrant children come to the U.S. to reunite with a parent, however the government report showed that roughly half are placed with relatives who are not parents, including with siblings and extended family. 

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The report focused on U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS), which is responsible for the care of migrant children in shelters and their timely placement with a sponsor. Each year the agency faces enormous pressure to quickly and safely provide shelter and sponsor placements for tens of thousands of children.

The growing number of children arriving at the border puts even more pressure on social workers who are trying to release kids from government shelters as quickly as possible, while also providing adequate screening of sponsors. 

Immigration attorney Brandon Roche said home visits would be one way to provide an extra layer of protection. However, in order to actually increase the number of home visits, the government would need to hire additional case workers. 

“They can change the policies all day, (but) if they don’t have staff to follow up, it doesn’t really matter what it says on paper,” said Roche.

Between 2018 and 2022, just 7% of the 363,000 placement sites received home visits, the report found.  

Findings also outlined the extent to which HHS has failed to follow up and keep track of migrants once they were placed with a sponsor. The only requirement for follow up for the vast majority of kids is a phone call, which happens 30 days after their placement. Phone calls are supposed to make sure children are safe, still living with their sponsors, enrolled in school and aware of their upcoming immigration court dates.  

In regard to these follow-up calls, the report stated “HHS continues to lose track of the children.” It provided data from previous reports that showed that the agency failed to follow up in instances when sponsors didn’t answer the phone, the kid’s whereabouts were unknown, the child ran away or the child was no longer living with the sponsor.

The report also criticized two sets of field guidance issued by the Biden administration during a spike in arrivals of unaccompanied migrants. The Biden guidance called for waiving background checks for household members of a sponsor who are not a kid’s sponsor in cases where the child didn’t have any specified vulnerabilities. When those instructions were issued, the government had to open a number of emergency shelters to deal with the influx of young migrants. Waiving certain procedures helped get kids out of federal facilities faster, though in fiscal year 2021 it also contributed to 55 percent fewer fingerprint checks than in 2019. 

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Over the years, isolated reports have surfaced about migrant children being found in abusive situations.

Recently, underage migrants were found working at a Hyundai-Kia parts supplier, according to a Reuters investigation. In 2014, the FBI uncovered a trafficking scheme that forced Guatemalan minors to work 12-hour shifts at an egg farm. 

Despite these reports and investigations, the full scope of the outcomes — both positive and negative — for these kids remains largely unknown as hundreds of thousands of migrant children have been placed in U.S. homes with minimal follow up.


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