In 2014, a young girl named Maria sat along the side of a dirt road. Her chapped lips, quiet demeanor and reclusiveness stood out. She couldn’t have been more than 14 years old and had a deep sadness in her eyes. She had traveled with a group of children from Honduras during a time when unaccompanied minors surged during the Obama Administration.
The other young children with her told this reporter they believed she had been “raped.” She was raped by the traffickers who guided them across the Rio Grande Valley River, one said. Her story is not new but it is one that is too often ignored. In fact, it happens every day to illegal migrant children making the long trek to the United States and one man has dedicated his life to saving children like Maria.
Tim Ballard, who founded the nonprofit group Operation Underground Railroad, delivered powerful testimony Wednesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the atrocities of human trafficking and slavery.
The committee, chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, also heard testimony today from U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan. The commissioner rebuked claims that the border is not a crisis. He said he “fundamentally disagrees” with those who called President Donald Trump’s national emergency a “fake emergency.”
His testimony, along with that of Ballard, suggests that the humanitarian crisis and national security implications are far worse than imagined.
Ballard, whose group works alongside foreign governments and law enforcement to save children from sex trafficking and human slavery, delivered powerful testimony before the Senate.
In a question and answer with Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, Ballard described the horrific nature of the criminal trafficking organizations saying woman and children have been through some of “the worst scenarios you can dream of.”
They are “paying with their bodies,” said Ballard. In fact, the Mexican cartels and human trafficking organizations find deceptive ways to get the children into the United States.
Ballard said he’s “very concerned there are over 10,000 unaccompanied minors already in custody in the United States government. He testified that there is not enough to protect the children from those who come to claim the children. He emphasized the need for “identity protection hearings” to ensure that the children are safe once released from U.S. custody.
“Please lets put measures in place to ensure that these kids have identity hearings so that they go to their traffickers,” he said.
Lee referenced data from DHS that revealed there were more than 1,700 children that had been traveling with people who were not relatives or parents in February.
“Oh, I think that’s the low end for sure -the last two years it has increased 360 percent the adults who come in with kids,” said Ballard, who questioned, how many of those children are traveling with people who are not their appropriate guardians.
“There have been some assumptions that need to be dispelled,” added Ballard. He referenced statements made by lawmakers that suggested many parents are sending their children to the U.S. illegally to be reunited.
He said “that’s not necessarily the case. I have information about kids being kidnapped and used as pawns to be (a trafficker or persons) get out of jail free card as Sen. (Ted) Cruz pointed out.”
He pointed out that “these kids are being utilized – frankly the best case is that they’re just being utilized so someone can get in and stay in. But I fear that once they’re there, once they are already there and vulnerable – there’s a very profitable market in child sex in this country” and “where else are they going to be taken.”
Lee asked Ballard if current U.S. policy “is facilitating and encouraging” the trafficking of women and children.
Ballard replied, “unfortunately, it is.”
For more information on what you can do to help go to Operation Underground Railroad.