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Corruption Chronicles

HHS Fails to Properly Vet Employees, Contractors who Care for Illegal Immigrant Minors

The scandals keep piling up for the federal agency charged with caring for the mobs of illegal immigrant minors—Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC)—that enter the country through the southern border. It is known as the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and operates under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The latest transgression involves the agency’s failure to fully vet workers and contractors who care for the young migrants. It comes on the heels of a congressional hearing to address reports that show ORR lost contact with more than 85,000 UAC in the past two years and that two-thirds of all UAC who leave the agency’s care work illegal, full-time jobs, often in factories and in hazardous conditions.

A couple of years ago Judicial Watch obtained records from HHS documenting 33 incidents of physical and sexual abuse during a one-month period at shelters where the government houses UAC until they are relocated with a sponsor. Months earlier, the agency got slammed in a federal audit for failing to protect UAC from sexual misconduct at the facilities. During a six-month period alone, investigators from the HHS Inspector General’s office uncovered more than 750 incidents involving sexual misconduct at dozens of shelters housing minor detainees. The investigation was launched because ORR-funded facilities for years reported allegations of sexual and physical abuse of minors in their care, some resulting in criminal convictions. For example, in one case a facility employee was convicted of sexually abusing seven UAC and in another an employee was convicted of attempting to coerce a minor to engage in illicit sexual activity and exchanging explicit videos and images with others.

During the Obama administration, when the UAC influx was at its peak, ORR placed many of the underage migrants in abusive homes. Some were forced to become prostitutes or personal slaves, according to a shocking Senate investigation that ignited bipartisan fury at the time. It was ironic because the Obama administration claimed it was rescuing UAC from “persistent violence in Central America” only to make their lives worse in the U.S. Some of the illegal immigrant youngsters ended up with human traffickers while others were exploited for their labor and dozens were sexually assaulted, starved or forced to work as practical slaves. In one case six Guatemalan minors were placed with human traffickers that forced them to live in a decrepit trailer and work 12 hours a day on egg farms in the rural Ohio town of Marion. Another Guatemalan boy was forced to work 12 hours a day for his Virginia sponsor to repay a $6,500 smuggling debt and a boy from El Salvador was released to his abusive father even though the kid told authorities the father had a history of beating him.

Years later serious problems persist at ORR, which funds and oversees dozens of state-licensed care facilities to harbor young migrants when they arrive in the U.S. In fiscal year 2021 ORR provided shelter for an unprecedented 122,731 UAC, according to government figures, and this fiscal year the Department of Homeland Security has referred 128,904 UAC to ORR. Most of the migrants are over 14 years of age and 64% are boys. The majority (47%) come from Guatemala, followed by Honduras (29%), El Salvador (13%) and 11% from other countries. As of May 2, 2023, there are 8,492 unaccompanied children in ORR care and the average length of time a UAC remains in government custody is 29 days. “ORR is working to further reduce length of care in ways that do not jeopardize the safety or welfare of the children,” the agency writes in the document with the latest figures. It continues. “The important work happening in each of the facilities and programs in the ORR network around the country – work ORR has done successfully since 2003 – takes an experienced team of competent, hardworking men and women dedicated to the welfare of the children.”

The reality is that ORR is endangering the migrant kids by failing to properly vet employees who work with them, according to a new HHS IG investigation. A report issued this month blasts the agency for not conducting or documenting all required background checks and for failing to complete others in a timely manner. “In addition, ORR did not require the transportation services contractor we reviewed to conduct background checks on employees as required by ORR minimum standards,” the watchdog writes in its recently published findings. Investigators considered several facilities and conducted site visits during a two-month period. They found that ORR was not consistent with issuing waivers for FBI fingerprint checks and child abuse and neglect checks of employees at emergency intake sites, that public records checks used by the sites may not have been reliable and that several sites did not ensure secure facility access. Several employee background checks “included offenses that may have made the employee unsuitable to work with children in a childcare setting,” the IG found.