Finally, the government has taken steps to stop releasing unaccompanied minors to criminals and traffickers
The Obama administration released thousands of unaccompanied alien children to criminal sponsors. I know because I was the Homeland Security whistleblower who legally came forward in late 2015 to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and to Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office about the releases. And I thought it was wrong. Only now is this serious and dangerous problem finally being dealt with.
In summer 2015, I was a member of the Obama’s White House Security Council’s Human Smuggling Cell, which was run by the Department of Homeland Security. On Aug. 4, 2015, I was sent a spreadsheet from senior Immigration and Customs Enforcement managers. The spreadsheet provided data, including criminal history checks of UAC sponsors.
There were 29,000 sponsors on the massive spreadsheet; 3,669 of the sponsors were convicted of crimes. The crimes ranged, among other things; from re-entry after deportation (a felony offense) to assault to actual sex crimes.
The government had serious issues with vetting sponsors from the beginning of the surge of unaccompanied children. The process was overly convoluted. A child would enter the United States solo, no parent or guardian; the U.S. Border Patrol or a customs officer would encounter the child at the Mexican border and place them in custody; then the child would be processed by ICE. ICE would then release the child to the Department of Health and Human Services, which would in turn release the child to a contracted facility. Finally, the child would be released to a sponsor.
There were way too many steps and way too many opportunities for something to go wrong.
After the child proceeded through the multiple bureaucratic steps, he would eventually be released to an unvetted sponsor. Vetting sponsors seemed like common sense even then, but it simply was not happening.
HHS is not a law enforcement agency, but it would have been responsible for vetting these multiple thousands of sponsors. There were many thousands of children in the immigration pipeline needing sponsors at any one time, which meant that thousands of sponsors would have had to be vetted. That’s a monumental task for any agency, and especially for a non-law enforcement agency.
This brings us to 2018. The government faced harsh criticism for detaining children and requiring sponsors to be vetted.
Up until 2018, three years after I blew the whistle, the government did not even require fingerprints of all sponsors, to determine if we were handing children over to criminals. DNA testing, to determine if sponsors were actually family as claimed, was unheard of at the time. Yet that’s the only real way to determine the sponsor’s familial relation to the child.
In July 2018, the Department of Health and Human Services determined that at least five adults attempting to take minors were not familial relations after DNA testing; this included adults who admitted that they were not family just prior to DNA testing.
I blew the whistle and jeopardized my Homeland Security career to expose what I believed was a serious safety issue for the young children. Now, three years later, the appropriate vetting is finally starting to take place.
Dr. Jason Piccolo is a career federal agent, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, former ICE Supervisor, and a nationally recognized whistleblower for the 2015 release of Unaccompanied Alien Children to criminal sponsors.