By Garance Burke, Associated Press
January 25, 2016
LOS ANGELES (AP) — As tens of thousands of children fleeing violence in Central America crossed the border in search of safe harbor, overwhelmed U.S. officials weakened child protection policies, placing some young migrants in homes where they were sexually assaulted, starved or forced to work for little or no pay, an Associated Press investigation has found.
Without enough beds to house the record numbers of young arrivals, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lowered its safety standards during border surges in the last three years to swiftly move children out of government shelters and into sponsors' homes. The procedures were increasingly relaxed as the number of young migrants rose in response to spiraling gang and drug violence in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, according to emails, agency memos and operations manuals obtained by AP, some under the Freedom of Information Act.
First, the government stopped fingerprinting most adults seeking to claim the children. In April 2014, the agency stopped requiring original copies of birth certificates to prove most sponsors' identities. The next month, it decided not to complete forms that request sponsors' personal and identifying information before sending many of the children to sponsors' homes. Then, it eliminated FBI criminal history checks for many sponsors.
Since the rule changes, the AP has identified more than two dozen children who were placed with sponsors who subjected them to sexual abuse, labor trafficking, or severe abuse and neglect.
"This is clearly the tip of the iceberg," said Jacqueline Bhabha, research director at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. "We would never release domestic children to private settings with as little scrutiny."[...]
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