Senators Hold Roundtable On Failure To ‘Protect Unaccompanied Migrant Children’

(Photo by SERGIO FLORES/AFP via Getty Images)

OAN’s Taylor Tinsley
5:20 PM – Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Several whistleblowers spoke out during Tuesday’s roundtable, which The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) notably declined to attend.


Whistleblowers maintained that the agency and its Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) repeatedly prioritize speed over safety and that there is a decade-long trail of evidence showing they are incapable of identifying, documenting, or reporting concerns.

“Our hope is that Congress can be armed with the information needed to hold ORR accountable and can demand greater oversight,” said Shevaun Harris, Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Whistleblowers emphasized that billions of Americans’ taxpayer dollars are being used by the agency and NGO contractors to place migrant children in the hands of sponsors with criminal backgrounds, sex and human traffickers, and people with cartel affiliations.

Tara Rodas reiterated that HHS is not a law enforcement organization or investigative agency. 

She also said that HHS oversight agency HHS OIG doesn’t even have access to its data portal, emphasizing that this also leaves law enforcement at the mercy of HHS and ORR, who won’t hand over the data they intend to investigate.

“I think about a 16-year-old girl from Guatemala. I’ll call her Carmen. Her sponsor claimed to be her older brother, but after Carmen was released from the Unaccompanied Children (UC) Program to her sponsor in North Carolina, she appeared in a photo on his social media,” Rodas described. “He was touching her inappropriately. It was clear her sponsor was not her brother. Later, Carmen appeared on her sponsor’s social media again – this time she was alone and all-dolled-up: her hair was styled; her makeup was done; and her shirt was unbuttoned. ORR’s Federal Field Specialist said Carmen looked drugged and that she was for sale. It was discovered that Carmen’s sponsor had other social media accounts containing child pornography. What keeps me up at night is wondering if Carmen is safe.”

Rodas described how she was fired and put under investigation for submitting disclosures to the DOJ OIG and HHS OIG after a child was sent to a sponsor affiliated with the MS-13 gang in Ohio shortly after she had sent out a “Do Not Release” advisory.

“If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would not believe that a federal government agency is using billions of taxpayer dollars to place vulnerable migrant children into the hands of sponsors who have criminal history and gang affiliation. It’s shocking and shameful,” Rodas added.

10 days after Roadas’s first disclosure was sent out, she was taken off the case. HHS outed her as a whistleblower and accused her of having cultural bias. 

HHS whistleblower Deborah White claimed that children have been sent to addresses that were abandoned or didn’t even exist, pointing out how, in one case, an unaccompanied minor was sent to an open field in Michigan. 

White said fake documents were rampant during her time at ORR, and when she tried to bring up the concern, agency officials told her that checking fake IDs wasn’t her job. 

“We never saw sponsors face-to-face,” White said. “When I checked on a child’s welfare at another facility I was told, ‘do not do that again. Once these children leave here… they’re gone and they are no longer your responsibility.’”

“I have seen these children, I have interviewed these children, and I have stories that will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

White also asserted that the issue surrounding unaccompanied minors is amplified by the fact that many case managers aren’t given any sort of training on how to identify fraud, prevent trafficking, or safely monitor children. 

Senators and whistleblowers thanked Grassley for taking action against what the Biden Administration continues to ignore. 

The Iowa senator introduced a bipartisan Congressional Review Act last week to strike down a law that further endangers the lives of unaccompanied children. 

He’s seeking to overturn an HHS rule finalized in April that codifies the refusal to share a sponsor’s immigration status with law enforcement, along with restrictions on whistleblowers and more. 

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