Congressman Chris Smith is preparing to introduce legislation that will require the federal government to locate the 85,000 migrant children it has lost contact with within the U.S.
“This is all about accountability and effective interventions for these kids,” Smith, R-N.J., told The Daily Signal.
The draft legislation is focused on “locating, establishing contact with, [conducting] wellness checks, and [investigating] trafficking” of the 85,000 migrant children, Smith said.
In February, The New York Times reported that even though the Department of Health and Human Services checks on all unaccompanied minors who cross the border illegally “by calling them a month after they begin living with their sponsors,” data obtained by the newspaper “showed that over the last two years, the agency could not reach more than 85,000 children.”
“Overall, the agency lost immediate contact with a third of migrant children,” the Times reported.
Smith expressed concern that the individuals who agree to act as sponsors for the children within the U.S. could take advantage of the lack of accountability and exploit the children.
Unaccompanied migrant children remain in the custody of HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement until they are placed with a parent or sponsor, but the agency “does not monitor or track the whereabouts of children after they are released from our care,” Robin Dunn Marcos, director of the office, told members of Congress during a hearing in April.
The children with whom the Biden administration has lost contact “need to be protected from … these terrible traffickers who will exploit them, rape them, put them into forced labor of some kind,” Smith said. “And so, it’s a very real problem that’s happening all over the world, [and] happening right here in our backyard.”
Smith explained the importance of the forthcoming legislation during a July 25 screening of the anti-human tracking film “Sound of Freedom” on Capitol Hill. The bill aims to “investigate any suspicion of human trafficking related to the approximately 85,000 unaccompanied minors who were released from federal government custody and with whom subsequent contact has been lost,” he told the crowd at the film screening.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., sponsored the screening of the film that drew lawmakers and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Smith says McCarthy has received a copy of the draft legislation and is confident the speaker will bring the bill to the floor of the House for a vote after it is formally introduced.
Smith worked to craft the legislation with Eduardo Verastegui, producer of and actor in the “Sound of Freedom,” and Roger Severino, vice president of domestic policy at The Heritage Foundation. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.) Severino previously served as the director of HHS’ Office for Civil Rights.
Among the 85,000 children, a “percentage of those kids, we have reason to believe, were already being trafficked for labor and sex trafficking purposes,” Severino told The Daily Signal, adding that it is a “national scandal” that the people HHS handed these children over to are “unwilling to account for where those kids are now.”
The bill to fix this “scandal” is “simple,” according to Severino.
“It says that [the Department of Homeland Security], HHS, and FBI must report to Congress as to the whereabouts of these children … who they are with, and whether or not the people who are taking care of them are criminals,” he said. “And third, how many of those kids have been trafficked.”
The New Jersey congressman plans to introduce the legislation soon after he ensures all lawmakers who wish to co-sponsor the legislation have the opportunity to do so, and says he hopes it will gain bipartisan support.
Smith has been a member of Congress since 1981 and says he has been working on combating human trafficking since 1995. In 2000, Smith authored the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which provided the federal government with tools to combat human trafficking.
America has “good laws,” to combat human trafficking, Smith said, but the “problem is we have not had a faithful implementation [of the laws] and the kind of aggressive work by the executive branch that it warrants.”
Customs and Border Protection reports encountering more than 423,000 unaccompanied children at the U.S.-Mexico border since President Joe Biden took office.
It “may be embarrassing to the Biden administration that lost the [85,000] children to shed light on that fact, but tough luck,” Severino said. “They lost the kids. They should be responsible for finding them.”
After so many Americans have watched “Sound of Freedom,” which has now grossed $155 million at the box office in one month, the “American people are demanding action,” Severino said. “This bill is the start of saving children from the clutches of some of the worst evil devised by man.”
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