Whistleblowers detail harrowing failure to protect migrant children pouring into U.S. under Biden

Officials have told Congress the government can’t vouch for the whereabouts of 85,000 migrant children let into the country under Biden, and that vetting failures abound for sponsors.

Published: July 9, 2024 11:00pm

Whistleblower Deborah White was a perfect candidate when the government in 2021 made an emergency appeal for federal agencies to provide temporary help to process thousands of migrant children who began crossing the southern border without parents at the beginning of the Biden administration’s border crisis.

As career worker at the General Services Administration, White had experience in managing large federal projects and was a native Spanish speaker who could talk directly with children coming from Latin American countries. So she was quickly lent in May 2021 from GSA to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency responsible for finding safe homes for the children known as “unaccompanied minors” in federal parlance.

When she got to Pomona, Calif., to help process children and begin to do wellness checks, however, she became horrified by what she witnessed.

Children related to her how they were raped or forced into labor while in the custody of drug cartels that transported them from their parents’ homes to the U.S. in hopes of taking advantage of Biden’s new immigration policies.

And the federal effort to find them safe shelter once in America was rushed like an assembly line, raising the risk that children got placed in unsafe shelters or with sponsors who weren’t properly vetted, she says.

“The mantra was speed over safety,” White told the John Solomon Reports podcast on Tuesday, the same day she gave her account to three Republican senators who held a roundtable discussion.

White said she quickly discovered some of the children were likely being placed into a potential trafficking ring when she ran a background check and found out some of the adult sponsors were actually migrant children themselves who had just turned 18 or 19. When she went to a supervisor to report the possible trafficking ties, her access to the background databases was shut off.

Eventually she blew the whistle to the HHS inspector general and got back her ability to screen sponsors. But the experience made her certain that the very process the federal government put in place to protect unaccompanied migrant minors was in fact flawed enough to put many in jeopardy.

“It's disgusting. Honestly, if I didn't live it, I would have a hard time believing it because it's so egregious,” White told Just the News. “If I didn't live this experience, I understand why people think you know that we're crazy people or something. But we're not, this is the reality.”

A spokesman for HHS did not return a request for comment from Just the News.

What White experienced from May to September 2021 has since been validated by Congress and the HHS inspector general.

Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., who chairs a House subcommittee on border security, said officials have told him the government can’t vouch for the whereabouts of 85,000 migrant children let into the country under Biden.

And the HHS inspector general has issued several reports warning that ORR and other agencies aren’t adequately screening placement homes or sponsors as required by law, including a report in February that found:

  • In 16% of children’s case files, one or more required sponsor safety checks lacked any documentation indicating that the checks were conducted.
  • For 19% of children who were released to sponsors with pending FBI fingerprint or state child-abuse and neglect registry checks, children’s case files were never updated with the results.
  • In 35% of children’s case files, sponsor-submitted IDs contained legibility issues.
  • In 22% of cases, ORR did not conduct timely Safety and Well-Being Follow Up Calls, and in 18% of cases, the followup calls were not documented in children’s case files.

White got to tell her story for the first time in public at the forum Tuesday led by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., joined by another whistleblower named Tara Rodas.

White related the horrors migrant children witnessed even before they reached the border.

“Typically, they owed about $2,500,” she said. “They ... knew they were coming here to work and pay off that debt. So labor trafficking was absolutely out of control. You know, there were also cases where, you know, children were sexually assaulted en route.”

The lawmakers expressed outrage not only at the IG statistical finding but the specific human stories the two whistleblowers offered from their personal experiences.

"This isn't willful ignorance. It's not willful negligence," Johnson said during opening remarks. "This is malevolent to allow children, knowing full well, the children have been sold [and] that people's eyes and organs are being harvested and that boys and girls are going to be raped and mutilated."

Added Cassidy: "Children are being released into dangerous environments to be exploited for illegal labor, leading to serious injuries such as dismemberment and shattered bones. There's even a press account of one child dying when he was pulled into a meat processing machine. The Biden administration is failing these children. It's failing basic human rights.” 

Rodas testified during the roundtable that she was retaliated against by the Office of Refugee Resettlement when she reported that MS-13 gang members were sponsoring migrant children. 

“It's important to note that when I reported the MS-13 case and provided evidence that other MS-13 and 18th Street gang members were sponsoring children, ORR retaliated against me," she said. 

Sen. Katie Britt, R-Ala., showed up near the end of the hearing to ask questions about the crisis and said that once the GOP was the majority in Congress, they would take action against the mess. 

The Facts Inside Our Reporter's Notebook

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