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The Border Crisis' Silent Impact on Rural Texas
Part III - Private Meeting w/ a NGO, Trafficking of UACs and What is Being Done
On Tuesday, March 21, I was invited to meet with Endeavors' Chief Communications Officer (CCO), Kim Solis. As a reminder, I have gone into extensive detail in parts I and II regarding the Eagle Lake facility run by Endeavors. As a quick recap, Endeavors is one of several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Texas that has purposefully injected the non-profit to the forefront of caring for unaccompanied minors crossing illegally into the United States.
Endeavors, also known as Family Endeavors, is best known for its services to the veteran community. It is important to note that Family Endeavors had previously aided other nongovernmental organizations that care for unaccompanied alien children (UACs), such as BCFS. However, it was not until the Biden Administration that Endeavors obtained a direct contract with Health and Human Services (HHS) and ORR (Office for Refugee Resettlement) to care for UACs.
I was given a tour of the beautiful veteran facility during the private meeting. I was thankful to see such valuable resources available to serve military veterans and those who have served in various branches of law enforcement. After the tour, Solis and I sat down to discuss my questions regarding caring for unaccompanied minors, including the facility in Eagle Lake.
We first discussed a few of my questions:
· What type of training do you give Case Managers to help them identify potential labor trafficking or sex trafficking of the children?
· What "red flags" do your Case Managers look for to prevent labor trafficking or sex trafficking of children?
· In 2021, HHS released an updated annual report. As a result, what type of training do you give Case Managers at HHS' Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP)?
· How many cases do you know of that have been submitted to OTIP?
· What type of training do you give Case Managers to help them identify potential sponsor fraud?
· Do you have any on-site investigative staff that helps Case Managers identify potential sponsor fraud?
· What are your greatest concerns for the children? What are the biggest concerns raised by the Case Managers?
· What are the biggest concerns handed down from HHS? What types of fraud schemes are you aware of?
· What type of vetting do employees & staff undergo?
Solis responded by stating that case managers hired by Endeavors are trauma-informed and must undergo internal training on trafficking. According to the CCO, the hiring process takes almost 50 days before an employee begins working. Solis maintained that the background checks are vigorous, and employees must complete training before working with clients. When asked what the training was based on, the CCO said she would get back to me with specifics.
Kim explained that a separate department within the organization is responsible for vetting sponsors, further stating that the employees look for variations of names of submitted sponsors and check to ensure multiple children are not going to the same sponsor. (I feel it is important to note that referenced claims from the Project Veritas investigations were brought up by the CCO, to which specific concerning allegations present during the drop of information, such as different variations of names and multiple children being released to a single sponsor.)
According to Endeavors, an internal system processes background checks on potential sponsors. I asked how the case managers can adequately vet the sponsor's submitted documents and rule out possible fraudulent documentation, specifically of sponsors, not American citizens or legal permanent residents (LPRs).
The CCO claimed that their internal system for background checks is very thorough and immediately insinuated that there are no UACs in the care of Endeavors being released to sponsors who are non-citizens or LPRs. This claim caught me by surprise.
In March 2021, a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between HHS/ORR and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was released, which the Congressional Research Service analysis and Reuters stated removed the requirements by sponsors to provide social security numbers so that individuals illegally present in the U.S. would not be discouraged to "claim a child." A staff report released by the congressional Homeland Security and Government Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations divulged that,
“HHS does not disqualify potential sponsors because of immigration status. Instead, if a potential sponsor is not legally present in the United States, HHS requires the sponsor to develop a “safety plan” or “Plan of Care” for the UAC that ensures the child will remain in the custody of a responsible adult if the sponsor is removed or leaves the country.”
Additionally, the practice of releasing UACs to non-citizens, including complications of proper vetting and UACs being released to deported sponsors, was well documented as far back as the 2016 report by a Congressional Senate Subcommittee.
Suffice it to say if Endeavors, in fact, does not release UACs to undocumented individuals, it is reasonable to assume they are possibly the exception. The concerns of proper vetting of the unaccompanied minors going into the facilities and the sponsors the children are released to are absolutely valid. The New York Times recently released a follow-up piece to the original earth-shattering article that sent ripples across party lines alleging the mass trafficking of unaccompanied minors throughout the U.S.
Understanding that the evidence of the trafficking of UACs is well documented, I asked the Endeavors representative what concerns the NGO had about the process and what they felt could be improved to help minimize the long-standing issues.
The response revolved around the HHS protocol for home studies. HHS contracts and funds NGOs as home study providers, meaning HHS relies on the NGOs to vet the sponsors.
According to HHS and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), a home study,
“… is an in-depth investigation of the potential sponsor’s ability to ensure the child’s safety and well-being. The process includes background checks of the sponsor and adult household members, a home visit(s), a face-to-face sponsor interview and possibly interviews with other household members, and post-release services. A home study is conducted for any case in which the safety and well-being of the unaccompanied child is in question and on any case that meets the mandatory Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 home study categories.”
According to Solis, Endeavors makes weekly attempts to contact the UAC and sponsor to fulfill the home study requirements. However, the NGOs can only follow up for 30 days after a UAC is released to the sponsor. After the 30-day time frame is passed, the NGO cannot attempt to make contact according to HHS guidelines.
Additionally, Endeavors claims they cannot attempt to reach the sponsor or the minor in person per HHS rules. In other words, HHS outsources the responsibility of vetting to NGOs, by which a relationship between NGO case managers and the UAC is likely formed but prohibits the organizations from following up on the cases face to face, even IF concerns of trafficking, neglect, or abuse are raised.
According to Endeavors, only HHS can directly attempt to visit the sponsors in person at the reported residence. However, several sources from the media to several congressional investigations indicate that HHS is not following their own guidelines regarding the number of home studies in general, nevertheless in-person visits.
Falling in line with the conversation and numerous issues I am aware of that have occurred in Texas, I asked what the protocol was for reports of abuse or neglect of UACs. Solis stated that while HHS does not require reporting to local authorities, Endeavors allegedly does file reports to proper authorities.
To reiterate this important point, according to the CCO of Endeavors, HHS does NOT require reporting to local law enforcement; only reporting to HHS is required and only IF it is within that 30-day timeframe after a UAC has been released to a sponsor.
This claim sadly falls in line with finding from the 2016 congressional investigations, which stated, “HHS believes it has no authority or responsibility to ensure the safety of children after placement,” and other subsequent investigative findings. A revelation I believe should make every American’s skin crawl.
In conjunction with this revelation, Solis stressed concern over the lack of follow-up on cases of neglect, abuse, and trafficking allegations called into the HHS hotline. Similar concerns regarding the HHS hotline were raised by the New York Times investigation and brought up during the 2016 Congressional Staff Report by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
There were a few other questions discussed during the meeting, but for sake of time, I will withhold further details of the meeting. I will, however, state that while I am thankful for the invite to have a private meeting with Endeavors, unfortunately, after the three-hour discussion, I have waited weeks for a follow-up to the many pertinent questions left unanswered while concerns continue to mount. Consequently, following up on critical questions by Endeavors is not an issue I alone have experienced. An issue we will explore further in just a moment.
There have also been whistleblowers that have come forth from HHS (Health and Human Services) and DHS (Department of Health and Human Services), providing evidence of a complete disregard, if not aiding, of trafficking UACs using taxpayer dollars. I interviewed two whistleblowers, Tara Rodas (HHS) and Aaron Stevenson (DHS), earlier last month regarding the release of UACs into trafficking rings and to transnational gang members by federal agencies.
Sadly, many of the claims align with what I have experienced over the last two years along the southern border while encountering unaccompanied minors. Claims of severe abuse along the route and UACs stating they did not know the sponsors they were told to ask for by strangers during their journey to the U.S.
In addition to the trafficking of minors, there are several other issues the expansion of facilities throughout Texas has inflicted. I have long stated that what is happening under the current administration is the federal takeover of sovereign states. As I have previously documented, a few NGOs are planning to open or have opened HHS-contracted facilities housing unaccompanied minors with no regard for the negative impact on local communities.
For example, the rural city of Eagle Lake, near the Colorado River and outside of Houston, must often contend with natural disasters such as flooding and hurricanes. On March 14, Colorado County Judge Ty Prause testified to the Eagle Lake City Council, seeking to work together to address other underlining concerns regarding the alleged lack of cooperation between Endeavors and County officials on emergency planning preparations.
“We cannot carry out the functions that the law charges us with without the answers to a lot of these questions that we have presented to Endeavors… on how we would coordinate any of these emergencies, because frankly, the county has not the resources that a big metropolis has, to handle or to evacuate or to treat or to bus out such individuals” stated Judge Prause.
Prause recounted several recent emergency response efforts enacted over just the last few years, where evacuation orders had been placed due to flooding and other natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey, further stating, "This is possibly a federal piece of ground, like an army base or a post. Do we have any jurisdiction under our emergency powers to evacuate etc., if called upon?"
A city council representative raised similar concerns stating that the local EMS only has 4 ambulances servicing over 1,000 square miles. In the event of a disaster, the services are taxed as they are, recalling that during Hurricane Harvey, 8 nursing home patients had to be transported to another facility, and three surrounding counties chipped in resources to make that happen. When widespread disaster hits, Houston's regional resources are tied up, leaving the rural communities to fend for themselves.
Mayor Tim Kelly responded to Judge Prause’s allegations by stating, “I’ve seen your list of questions, and I am shocked that they haven’t answered any of them because they are very serious questions.”
Another council member stated they had asked similar questions regarding their plan to work with city services such as the local police department or EMS. The council woman said the city officials had received similar non-responses.
County Judge Prause raised further concerns stating, “What happens in the event of a disturbance, allegations of theft or sexual assault? All of those issues present questions that we don’t have answers to at this point… Yes, they are what if’s but when it happens, they are big what if’s and I don’t want the finger pointed at us, under all of our watch in this room, saying why were y’all asleep at the wheel and not thinking about these things.”
Councilwoman stated that Endeavors has yet to answer questions regarding what happens when a minor ages out of a facility and is not sent to a sponsor. Considering the history of violent gang activities in the City of Eagle Lake committed by males within the same age group as the minors reportedly anticipated to be housed in the Endeavors facility (13-17-year-old males, although the exemption form Alliance for a Safe TX has obtained through an information request shows discrepancies in the anticipated age range) this is a legitimate concern for the safety of the community that must be addressed.
In the neighboring city of Wallis, located in Austin County, another HHS-contracted facility has opened its doors despite alarms raised by local citizens and county officials.
Vision Quest, a For-Profit NGO, has a long-standing, disturbing history of allegations of abuse, neglect, assault, and even death of minors in facilities spanning as far back as 1987. In addition to Vision Quest's contracting to care for unaccompanied minors, the for-profit is also known for its care of, or lack thereof, at-risk juveniles and foster care youth.
Honestly, how this for-profit is still allowed to operate is unfathomable! Left-leaning media and advocacy groups have been at the forefront of exposing the aggressive history.
However, Vision Quest is not only allowed to operate but continues to receive millions of taxpayer dollars in contracts despite its extensive history of serious allegations. In my opinion, it is past time that conservatives unite with liberal counterparts that genuinely care about children to ensure the shutdown of such concerning for-profit businesses.
According to Austin County Judge, efforts by the city, county, state, and congressional officials have all been ignored by Vision Quest and HHS. Like the City of Eagle Lake, Wallis is a rural Texas city, in a rural county, with limited law enforcement, EMS, and healthcare resources.
During a recent speaking engagement in Hallettsville, my friend Marie Day and I stopped by the Vision Quest facility. We spoke with a local law enforcement officer who stressed several personal concerns, including a complete disregard of necessary communication and transparency by the HHS contracted facility essential to ensure the safety of the minors in the care of the facility, law enforcement officials, and the community.
In an attempt to garner basic information on the Wallis facility, Congressman Michael McCaul sent an information request to get a copy of the contract between HHS and Vision Quest. According to Senator Kolkhorst, this request was yet to be answered when the issue was discussed during a committee hearing last week for bill SB 572.
I want to point out that this issue is directly related to the border crisis that has garnered little attention. While some larger facilities, like in San Antonio and Houston, have received very sparse headlines by select media, these permanent facilities housing unaccompanied minors are often overlooked and typically go unnoticed by unassuming residents, especially in metroplex areas.
Alliance for a Safe Texas has made every effort to raise alarms that additional facilities will likely open across Texas. Rural areas are particularly appealing for locations simply because properties are cheaper. However, unlike metroplex areas, rural cities, and counties where these facilities are attempting to open or have opened operational doors, the potential impact could be a further detrimental blow to already strapped resources.
The city of Eagle Lake has obtained legal services in preparation for issues that may arise. Rural Texas communities should not be left alone to absorb the burden of numerous consequences inflicted by federal agencies and policies.
So naturally, the next question should be, what if anything is being done?
First, let's discuss two critical pieces of legislation. Senate Bill 572 by Senator Lois Kolkhorst. SB 572 attempts to give general-law municipalities (essentially cities with populations under 9,999 and would cover a large portion of Texas) authority to regulate via city ordinance to address concerns about local infrastructure. Last week, I testified in favor of the bill, along with Austin County Judge Tim Lapham.
SB 572 was brought to Senator Kolkhorst's office, whose district includes the city of Wallis, out of necessity by Judge Lapham due to not just the facility run by Vision Quest but also because two other sites in Austin County have already been looked at by other NGOs for the same purpose of housing unaccompanied minors.
During the committee hearing, Senator Eckhardt brought up some questions I was very thankful for, including asking the question why not put forth legislation requiring that the HHS facilities housing UACs in Texas be licensed by the state…
In fact, there is legislation that would require exactly that. HB 5000 is a concept I brought to Representative Stan Kitzman's office. Rep Kitzman's district includes not only the Wallis facility but also the facility in Eagle Lake. Thankful for the epiphany by Senator Eckhardt, it is essential to note that despite concerns by some officeholders in Texas, there is, in fact, nothing that prohibits state governments from regulating the facilities in sovereign states. In fact, the contrary is true.
Concerns were initially raised when Governor Abbott first signed the proclamation withholding the state licenses of HHS-run facilities. I researched this topic in the first substack entitled, NGO Struggles to Open Facility Doors in Rural Texas. At that time, I was told that HHS threatened to sue the state of Texas if we attempted to regulate the facilities.
First, Texas has filed several lawsuits against the Biden Administration or vice versa regarding the border crisis, many of which have gone in the state's favor.
Second, there is ample evidence, from issues with a facility in Midland County (for those who have followed me for some time, you may remember my podcast with Laura Nodolf, the Midland County DA, where we discussed how county officials were effectively able to shut the facility doors because HHS was not following their own guidelines.), to other facilities run in the state in metroplex areas and more rural areas alike. And let's not forget the overwhelming recent and long-standing evidence of trafficking of unaccompanied minors at the hands of these federal agencies.
Third, by the guideline, according to HHS/ORR, they claim to meet or exceed state licensing requirements… why? The Flores Settlement Agreement (FSA). Yes, that’s correct, the very Agreement I would argue, along with many experts, that helps to fuel the trafficking of unaccompanied minors.
Exhibit A: A notice archived in the federal register entitled Federal Licensing of Office of Refugee Resettlement Facilities Request Information by HHS in September 2021 stated, “The Flores Settlement Agreement (FSA) generally requires that ORR promptly place unaccompanied children into a State licensed child-care program. As of July 2021, ORR operates over 200 licensed care provider facilities in 22 states under approximately 50 separate grants executed under Cooperative Agreements between ORR and the grantee care providers. Each State has its own State licensing standards.”
Exhibit B: The Flore Settlement itself, pick anywhere in the agreement; it is littered with references to STATE LICENSES. Texas and other states need to utilize all available tools, including the FSA, to our advantage of pushing back on the federal overreach and the accompanying mounting negative impacts.
Exhibit C: A recently confirmed revelation by the great state of Florida. Florida's recent Grand Jury investigation about the trafficking of UACs in Florida stated … “Floridians cannot exercise direct control over immigration policy, nor over ORR’s treatment of UAC. However, Floridians most certainly can and should regulate those living among us who seek out the responsibility of raising a child not their own.” Agreed, Florida AG agreed…
Furthermore, the Grand Jury’s recommendations included requiring, “Any organization or individual licensed as a Child Placement Agency or facilitating the reunification of a child with a purported biological parent must document the relationship with either (a) original documentation of live birth naming the individual as a parent or (b) paternity/maternity testing established via a DNA test, and maintain such records in its possession.” Meaning that Florida would have to impose state regulations on such agencies.
And lastly, if, in fact, the states did not have the right to regulate HHS facilities, why would an exemption by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission need to be created when Governor Abbott signed the proclamation?
So, my response to concerns of HHS threatening to sue over attempting to regulate HHS facilities housing unaccompanied minors, LET THEM SUE! With so many pending cases, and cases Texas and other states have won in favor of state sovereignty, show me a cause worthier fighting for than trying to inject a potential buffer against the trafficking of children occurring in our backyards and simultaneously safeguard rural areas of Texas against reckless federal overreach when sadly, so much evidence is in our favor.
It is not a matter of IF sovereign states have such power to regulate these facilities; it is a matter of who has enough testicular fortitude to fight for it. Florida has already taken some jabs. Past time Texas does the same. The bills are by no means a final solution to these long-standing issues, but it's a much-needed first step.
Also, I have been asking for weeks for support regarding the Alliance for a Safe Texas legislatively sponsored letter calling for the launch of an investigation into the trafficking of unaccompanied minors in Texas. Again, Representative Stan Kitzman answered the call! Thankfully, the letter has garnered bipartisan support! For those who have responded to that call to action, THANK YOU!!! Below are the signers of the letter so far:
Rep. Bumgarner, Rep. Swanson, Rep. Fraizer, Rep Cecil Bell Jr., Rep Tepper, Rep. Schatzline, Rep. Hayes, Rep. Gerdes, Rep. Vasut, Rep. Dorazio, Rep. Thimesch, Rep. Orr, Rep. Cunningham, Rep. Manuel, Rep. Toth, Rep. Lopez, and Rep. Morales.
Finally, I have been invited to testify to the House Judiciary subcommittee on April 26 in Washington, D.C., regarding the experiences with unaccompanied minors I have encountered along the border. Stay tuned for that as we get closer. Arrangements have been made, and all necessary forms and my testimony have been submitted. Now we pray that everything remains as planned and that it will make a positive difference.
What YOU can do
SB 572 was favorably reported out of the local government Senate committee and is now waiting on the local & uncontested calendar to be heard on the Senate floor. Contact your state senator and ask them to support the bill by voting YES for its passage when/if it is presented to the Senate body.
HB 5000 has garnered support from several well-respected representatives. Rep. Kitzman has been fighting hard to garner support for the bill for his district and, if I am being honest, for all of Texas. The bill is waiting to be heard in the State Affairs committee, which we anticipate next week. We will need YOUR help to ensure the bill moves! If your representative still needs to sign on in support, reach out and ask them to sign on as a co-sponsor. Also, sign up for email alerts as we will continue to provide updates.
And, of course, helping to support Alliance for a Safe Texas with prayers, responding to calls to action, and financial donations. AST relies on small donations from regular Texans like you and is otherwise self-funded.
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