The Biden administration ignored warnings about migrant children knowingly being released to sponsors exploiting them for child labor, The New York Times reported Monday.
Longtime government staffers and outside contractors notified the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that migrant children were at risk of being exploited for labor, according to the NYT. The Department of Labor recently opened an investigation into migrant children being exploited for labor at American snack factories.
“It’s unacceptable that companies are using child labor, and this administration will continue working to strengthen the system to investigate these violations and hold violators accountable,” Robyn M. Patterson, a White House spokeswoman, said, according to the NYT.
In one situation, Linda Brandmiller, who was working at a San Antonio, Texas shelter the Biden administration was using to handle the surge in child migrants, was vetting potential sponsors and found such issues with them, according to the NYT. Brandmiller found that a man she interviewed her first week told her he sponsored three boys to work at a construction company and another man from Florida was trying to sponsor two children to work off their smuggling fees.
More than 250,000 unaccompanied migrant children have travelled to the U.S. in the last two years.
Brandmiller immediately alerted her supervisors at HHS, saying “this is urgent,” according to the NYT. Days later, however, HHS released one of the children to the sponsor in Florida, leading Brandmiller to alert her supervisor, asking for “immediate attention” on the case.
She also notified the manager of the shelter.
But just days after, she was revoked access to the building during her lunch and was never given a reason for her firing.
“If I saw it, they could have put it together,” Brandmiller, who is also an immigration lawyer, said, according to the NYT. “There were so many opportunities to connect those dots that no one ever did.”
HHS denied any records of Brandmiller’s concerns, the NYT reported.
When Biden entered office, he enacted that unaccompanied migrant children would be allowed to stay in the U.S. to await adjudication of their cases.
When images of migrant children in custody wrapped in mylar blankets circulated, Susan Rice, the head of domestic policy for the White House, told staffers she was upset, according to the NYT, citing five people who worked with her. Patterson denied any constraints on Rice, adding that she was “proud to be doing the right thing and treating children with dignity and respect.”
“This is BS,” Rice wrote, according to a copy of the memo reviewed by the NYT. “What is leading to ‘voluntary’ separation is our generosity to UCs!”
Neither HHS nor the White House responded to requests for comment.
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