HHS whistleblower describes horrific abuse, exploitation of migrant children in border crisis hearing

by Chris Lange

Chris Lange, FISM News


The crisis at the southern border has led to “an explosion” of migrant child exploitation and abuse in which the U.S. government has served as the “middleman,” according to Health and Human Services whistleblower Tara Lee Rodas. 

Rodas made the statement in testimony before The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Integrity, Security, and Enforcement Wednesday. 

“Today, children will work overnight shifts at slaughterhouses, factories, restaurants to pay their debts to smugglers and traffickers. Today, children will be sold for sex. Today, children will call a hotline to report they are being abused, neglected, and trafficked,” she said.

Rodas told lawmakers that she volunteered in 2021 to help migrant resettlement efforts on behalf of the Biden administration. She was sent to California’s Pomona Fairplex Emergency Intake Site to assist with the HHS’s efforts to place unaccompanied migrant children with U.S. sponsors. 

Through the course of her work, however, Rodas discovered that some of these sponsors are actually “criminals and traffickers and members of Transnational Criminal Organizations” who “view children as commodities and assets to be used for earning income.” 

“I thought I was going to help place children in loving homes. Instead, I discovered that children are being trafficked through a sophisticated network that begins with being recruited in [their] home country, smuggled to the US border, and ends when [Office of Refugee Resettlement] delivers a child to a sponsor,” she said. 

“Whether intentional or not, it can be argued that the U.S. Government has become the middleman in a large scale, multi-billion-dollar, child trafficking operation run by bad actors seeking to profit off the lives of children,” Rodas said, adding that she sees migrant child exploitation not as a “political” issue, but a “humanitarian” one.


Sheena Rodriguez, founder, and president of Alliance for a Safe Texas, told lawmakers that what she has witnessed at the southern border “would and should disgust and terrify every American.”

Rodriguez testified that in December 2021, during a border trip to Texas’s Del Rio area, she and other members of her group were approached by six male migrants “believing we were their transport to smuggle them further into the U.S.

“When we spoke to them, they said they had witnessed Mexican cartel operatives murder children who were traveling alone and could not pay the smuggling fees,” she continued. “One man claimed he witnessed children being used and traded as currency.”

Rodriguez said that migrants see on television how easy it is for unaccompanied minors and adults with small children to be accepted into the U.S. As a result, they have “no fear of retribution or being turned away if they were with children under the current policies.”


Jessica Vaughan, Director of Policy Studies, Center for Immigration Studies, testified that the current border policies “entice” migrants “to put themselves in risky situations to cross the border illegally, led by criminal smuggling and trafficking organizations, and enabled by government agencies and contractors that have looked the other way at the abuse and exploitation that frequently occurs en route and after resettlement.

“The most vulnerable group that has been endangered by the Biden policies are the more than 300,000 minors who have arrived on his watch” who “have been carelessly funneled through the custody of U.S. government agencies and contractors…without regard to their safety and well-being,” she continued.


Former HHS official Jallyn Sualog told lawmakers Wednesday that she began sounding the alarm in 2021 that the administration’s policies were “putting children at risk.” After repeated warnings, she was eventually demoted. She sued the department and resigned after the case was settled out of court.

“I feel like, short of protesting in the streets, I did everything I could to warn them. They just didn’t want to hear it,” Sualog said.

Rodas described her disillusion and shock when she realized “that we were not offering children the American dream, but instead putting them into modern-day slavery with wicked overlords was a terrible revelation,” Rodas said. 

“These children are a captive victim population, with no access to law enforcement or knowledge of their rights. They are extorted, exploited, abused, neglected, and trafficked. I’ve witnessed firsthand the horrors of child trafficking and exploitation. My life will never be the same,” she continued, adding that she is “counting” on Congress to “take action to end this crisis and safeguard the lives of these vulnerable children.”


According to Customs and Border Patrol data, there were 18,096 unaccompanied minor encounters at the southern border in Fiscal Year 2020. The number jumped to 47,681 in 2021, representing an increase of more than 163%. The number soared by more than half in FY 2022, with 72,352 unaccompanied minor encounters reported. As of April 4, 2023, there had already been 67,596 such encounters – a figure well on its way to eclipsing those reported in the previous three years.

The New York Times reported in February that the Biden administration had lost track of roughly 85,000 migrant children whose whereabouts are unknown.