U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and three other Republican senators on Tuesday introduced legislation to protect children from being trafficked at the southern border.
Blackburn announced she was working with U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Josh Hawley (R-MO). The bill, S. 1561, is also known as the Accountability for Care of Unaccompanied Alien Children Act to protect children from being trafficked at the southern border.
Blackburn tweeted, “Today, @ChuckGrassley, @SenTomCotton & @HawleyMO and I introduced legislation to protect children from being trafficked at the southern border. This is a critical step we must take to secure our country and protect those who are being taken advantage of by criminals.”
Today, @ChuckGrassley, @SenTomCotton & @HawleyMO and I introduced legislation to protect children from being trafficked at the southern border. This is a critical step we must take to secure our country and protect those who are being taken advantage of by criminals. pic.twitter.com/oRCJzZwQIt
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) May 21, 2019
At a 2018 Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing, Blackburn said, a Department of Health and Human Services official admitted the agency lost track of nearly 1,500 unaccompanied minors after their release from federal custody over a three-month span in 2017.
According to Blackburn, S. 1561 bill has three objectives:
- Protect children in HHS custody from falling victim to traffickers.
- Codify the existing agreement between HHS and the Department of Homeland Security to screen sponsors for criminal records or trafficking history.
- Affirm the continued authority of law enforcement agencies to investigate any criminal conduct committed by the adult sponsors.
“The U.S. has the responsibility to ensure an unaccompanied child in the care of HHS is placed with a responsible adult who will keep them out of harm’s way,” Blackburn said. “This bill will promote greater information sharing between HHS and DHS, and hold them accountable in ensuring those placements are done with the child’s best interest.”
Grassley said, “All children deserve safe homes, regardless of their immigration status. We’ve known for a long time that background checks of potential sponsors for these children need improvement. We need to know that we are not placing these children with criminals or predators. This bill ensures that government officials have access to all available information about potential sponsors before entrusting them with the care of a child.”
Cotton was quoted as saying, “When unaccompanied children are caught being smuggled into the United States, they often remain in government care until we can place them with an adult sponsor or resolve their immigration status. However, some adults who claim to be sponsors are actually criminals engaged in trafficking, child labor, or prostitution. Our bill would require proper vetting for potential sponsors and other members of their households so these children aren’t exploited.”
And Hawley said, “Human traffickers and criminal gangs continue to exploit our broken immigration system by smuggling children across our border. This critical legislation will ensure that law enforcement at the border has the authority to prevent unaccompanied minors taken into federal custody from being released to sponsors who are criminals within the United States.”
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.