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Culture > News

1,500 Migrant Children Are Still Missing After Federal Agencies Lost Track Of Them

Federal officials from the Department of Health and Human Services told Congress back in late April that the agency lost track of nearly 1,500 immigrant children last year after it placed the kids with sponsors in the United States, according to The New York Times.

Yes, you read that right, the government can’t find almost 1,500 kids.

A large number of the kids that are missing are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and they were taken into government custody after turning up at the border alone.

Steve Wagner, who is the interim assistant secretary of the agency’s Administration for Children and Families, told the Senate subcommittee that they learned about the missing children after calling the sponsors responsible for the children.

As reported by the Associated Press, limited budgets for tracking migrant children after they are placed in foster homes was what led the Department of Health and Human Services losing track of the 1,500 children.

Between October and December of last year, Wagner had testified that officials at the agency attempted to reach 7,635 children and their sponsors. The Times reported they learned that 6,075 children stayed with their sponsors, 28 ran away, 5 were deported from the U.S. and 52 moved in with non-sponsors.

The rest of the children’s whereabouts could not be determined by the agency.   

Concerns were raised that the children might end up in the clutches of human traffickers and potentially used as laborers by fake relatives. At the time, Congress was investigating safeguards to be put in place to make sure children wouldn’t be turned over to human traffickers, but instead to their relatives.

Two years ago, federal officials at the agency were scrutinized for curtailing child protection policies for minors escaping violence in Central America, The Hill reports. By delaying important reforms to keep children out of the hands of human traffickers, many senators found that the agency failed in maintaining their responsibility and care for these children.

According to AP, more than 180,000 unaccompanied minors have been placed by the federal government in foster care as they wait to obtain legal status in immigration court since 2013. The AP investigation back in 2016 found many of those children were sexually assaulted, abused or forced into child labor. Many of the adult sponsors at the time didn’t have to go through a detailed background check, nor were they frequently checked on.

Ohio Republican and chairman of the subcommittee, Rob Portman, started to investigate the situation after eight Guatemalan teens were given to human traffickers and were forced to work on egg farms in Ohio.

Many are questioning whether the federal government can protect these kids, especially now that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has instructed the agencies to separate parents and their children. The policy is just one part in Session’s plan to re-mold the U.S. immigration system.

Earlier this month Sessions said, “If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple.”

It’s scary to think about what could potentially happen to these kids. Family reunification could take years, especially when pending immigration backlog is over 650,000. And what could happen if these children are released to someone pretending to be family?

More than 700 children have been taken from their undocumented guardians since October of 2017; a hundred of them are under the age of four.

There is still no update as to the status of the children, but the agency determined that they were not legally responsible for the kids once they were released from the placement program.

Carissa Dunlap is a Her Campus News X Social Intern for Summer 2018. She is a current Publishing major and Journalism minor at Emerson College (Class of 2020). When she isn't perusing the YA bookshelf at the bookstore, she can be found watching dog videos on Facebook, at her favorite coffee shops, or relaxing on the beach. Follow her on Instagram @dunlapcarissa or Twitter @Caridunlap.