A Republican congressman from Oklahoma says that individuals associated with human traffickers have asked the Department of Health and Human Services to hand over unaccompanied alien children being housed at a facility in the state.
“There have been cases of people who have attempted to be sponsors actually being identified as associated with trafficking organizations,” Rep. Jim Bridenstine told National Review Online in an interview on Saturday, after visiting Fort Sill, a U.S. army base outside of Lawton.
“Not only the official, but the contractor as well indicated that that has happened, but they didn’t know how many times,” Bridentstine said.
Fort Sill and other federal facilities are being used to house the child immigrants, most of whom are from Central America. BCFS, which stands for Baptist Child & Family Services, is the contractor providing security for and maintaining the temporary shelter.
The facilities are being utilized to deal with an unprecedented surge of illegal aliens that have been apprehended at the southern U.S. border. Since Oct. 1, 57,000 unaccompanied children and at least 39,000 mothers with children have been apprehended.
U.S. law requires unaccompanied children from countries that do not border the U.S. to be turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The federal agency houses them until a relative or sponsor can be identified. Once found, the unaccompanied child is turned over to their care and given a notice to appear in court for deportation proceedings.
Bridenstine said that human traffickers and smugglers seek to exploit that process.
“If you can’t pay your coyote or your criminal organization, they will force you into slave labor or they will force you into prostitution,” Bridenstine told National Review Online.
In many cases, children and their families pay thousands of dollars to coyotes to help navigate the trek from Central America to the U.S.
“There have been cases where the parents couldn’t pay, or somebody in the United States couldn’t pay, and large groups of these children have been, no kidding, massacred,” Bridenstine told NRO. “And there are recent gravesites in Northern Mexico with a number of dead bodies.”
Reached by The Daily Caller for comment, a spokeswoman for BCFS provided more details.
“From my memory of today’s visit, the congressman asked if children were possibly being placed with sponsors here in the U.S. who owed money to the coyotes and were unable to pay their debts,” said Krista Piferrer, a spokeswoman for BCFS,
“BCFS believes that is happening, though there isn’t a test or tracking of such occurrences because it’s based on a gut feeling.”
That sense is “based on common knowledge that family members here in the U.S. are hiring coyotes to bring their children across the border,” said Piferrer.
“We suspect that some children may be released to sponsors who still owe money to smugglers,” she said, while adding that “children are never released into an environment that is suspected to be dangerous.”
HHS has final determination on to whose care unaccompanied children are released. The agency did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment.
Bridenstine’s visit to Fort Sill on Saturday was his second. His first attempt to enter the facility earlier this month failed after he was turned away and told he would have to make an appointment.