FIRST ON FOX: A House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Wednesday will feature the testimony from a whistleblower who will warn lawmakers that the U.S. has become the "middleman" in a multibillion dollar migrant child trafficking operation at the border.
The hearing, "The Biden Border Crisis: Exploitation of Unaccompanied Alien Children," will be held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Integrity, Security, and Enforcement and will examine the surge in unaccompanied children (UACs) at the southern border.
According to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) statistics, the number of UACs who arrive at the border has swelled from 33,239 in fiscal year 2020 to more than 146,000 in fiscal year 2021 and 152,000 in fiscal year 2022. So far in fiscal year 2023, there have been more than 70,000 encounters of unaccompanied children.
When child migrants are encountered at the border, they are transferred into the custody of Health and Human Services (HHS) and then united with a sponsor – typically a parent or family member already in the U.S.
But the Biden administration has been rocked by a number of reports that officials have been unable to make contact with more than 85,000 child migrants; and more recently, administration officials reportedly ignored signs of "explosive" growth in child labor. A number have been forced into indentured servitude to pay back smugglers and have worked in dire conditions.
The Wednesday hearing will hear from three witnesses: Tara Lee Rodas, a HHS whistleblower formerly with an inspector general's office; Sheena Rodriguez, founder and president of Alliance for a Safe Texas; and Jessica Vaughan, director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.
Rodas will warn of a problem that predates the administration but has increased significantly during the recent migrant crisis, according to a copy of her written testimony obtained by Fox News Digital.
"Today, children will work overnight shifts at slaughterhouses, factories, restaurants to pay their debts to smugglers and traffickers. Today, children will be sold for sex," she will say. "Today, children will call a hotline to report they are being abused, neglected, and trafficked. For nearly a decade, unaccompanied children have been suffering in the shadows."
Rodas will talk about her volunteering at an emergency intake site in California to help the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) identify sponsors for minors who have come across the border.
"I thought I was going to help place children in loving homes. Instead, I discovered that children are being trafficked through a sophisticated network that begins with being recruited in their home country, smuggled to the U.S. border, and ends when ORR delivers a child to a sponsor – some sponsors are criminals and traffickers and members of Transnational Criminal Organizations. Some sponsors view children as commodities and assets to be used for earning income – this is why we are witnessing an explosion of labor trafficking," Rodas' written remarks show.
"Whether 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."
Rodriguez, of the Alliance for a Safe Texas, will share her experiences of encountering unaccompanied children at the border, including teenage boys whom she said told her that cartel cooperatives transported children through Mexico and held them at warehouses with armed guards. She will also call for the investigation of federal agencies responsible and for the ending of releasing migrants to sponsors.
"We can no longer turn a blind eye and pretend this isn’t happening. Congress has the power to stop this, which is why I am calling on you to do what is right," her testimony says.
Vaughan will call, too, for congressional action, including the ending of legal loopholes that she says force the government "to operate a massive catch and release program for illegally-arriving alien children."
"They have been carelessly funneled through the custody of U.S. government agencies and contractors, and handed off to very lightly vetted sponsors (who are usually also here illegally) in our communities without regard to their safety and well-being," she will say. "There is no question that the system for processing minors who cross illegally is dysfunctional, and has been for some time, and needs to be fixed."
Last month, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra pushed back on the agency being unable to contact 85,000 minors, and he also said HHS authorities are limited by Congress.
"I have never heard that number of 85,000, I don’t know where it comes from and … so I would say it doesn’t sound at all to be realistic, and what we do is we try and follow up as best we can with these kids," he said.
"Congress has given us certain authorities. Our authorities end when we have found a suitable sponsor to place that child with. We try and do some follow-up, but neither the child or the sponsor is actually obligated to follow up with us," he said.
Meanwhile, domestic policy adviser Susan Rice – who left her role this week – responded to the Times report that her team was shown evidence of a growing migrant child labor crisis.
"We were never informed of any kind of systematic problem with child labor or migrant child labor," she said.