A legal loophole that allows unaccompanied migrant children who cross the border to remain in the United States is subjecting them to abuse and enslavement, according to news reports and federal indictments filed by the Justice Department.
In one recent instance, federal prosecutors have filed charges against an Illinois family they say smuggled a 10-year old girl into the U.S. who was repeatedly raped and forced to perform free labor, turning her paychecks over to her sponsor.
That girl and another, both from Guatemala were allowed to stay because their family convinced authorities they were related to the U.S. family who said they were sponsoring them, but that’s not the case according to the Justice Department.
Instead, the two girls were beaten, threatened with knives and put to work with barely any time to sleep by Domingo Francisco-Juan, Catarina, Domingo-Juan Lorenzo Domingo-Castaneda all Guatemalan nationals who have been charged with conspiracy to commit forced labor, forced labor, conspiracy to commit kidnapping and kidnapping.
Federal prosecutors allege that the U.S. based family conspired to bring the two girls into the country from Guatemala and subjected them to indentured servitude in their homes between December 2015 and March 2021. The girls, who were not even teenagers were forced to work in slave labor type of conditions day and night with childcare, cooking and cleaning.
Even more nefarious, they little ones were forced to take on outside work in local hotels, factories and a restaurant while being forced to turn over all their compensation to the sponsoring family.
A Justice Department press release says that the girls and their parents were given “false promises of a better life and an education to the United States to live with the defendants.”
Prosecutors allege the defendants forced a third victim to also work in their home and at outside local businesses.
The federal indictment says the accused “isolated the victims in their homes, restricted their communications with their family in Guatemala, and subjected them to physical, verbal and psychological abuse, among other coercive means.”
One of the girls, only identified as Victim 1 in the federal indictment also became pregnant after being raped, but had a miscarriage. She was brought across the border by in February 2016 during the Obama presidency and was only 10 years old at the time.
A second girl identified only as Victim 2 was brought to the U.S. by Domingo Francisco-Juan, Catarina Domingo Juan’s brother in June 2019 in the peak of the Trump presidency.
Federal prosecutors allege that Francisco-Juan had at least six previous deportations, an “extensive criminal history, and coached the girls to tell authorities they were coming to live with their aunt in Illinois. The so-called aunt was Catarina Domingo-Juan who was not even related to the girls.
Records obtained by the Washington Times from the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) indicate that a federal employee purportedly confirmed the faux family relationship by checking addresses, income verification and fingerprints.
As a result, Victim 1 was given passage into the country and allowed to be transported to her new home in Illinois where she was abused and put to work at 10 years old, just a few months later. By the age of 12, she was working outside the home with fake identity after school for wages that were taken from her.
Eventually, told friends of hers about the forced labor in the home and at school after others noticed she was sleep deprived and “appeared dirty, unhealthy, and had marks on her body.”
That friend eventually told authorities that she personally witnessed Catarina Domingo-Juan physically abuse the girl on at least 20 occasions, highlighting a wound on the little one’s mouth at a party.
The alleged victim told authorities that wound came from a knife attack after Catarina Domingo-Juan was furious with her making mistakes trying to cook a meal. The witness also told authorities the little girl had cut marks on her arm and lost a tooth.
U.S. authorities say the little girl’s Guatemalan mother tried to reach her at times, but the U.S. family blocked the communication, finally blackmailing the mother for $15,000 to get her daughter back.
In the instance of Victim 2, authorities say she was forced to do housekeeping work and outside work at a hotel and plastic packaging plant. She finally escaped to a Missouri hospital, and doctors determined she had a miscarriage, but the little girl didn’t even know she had been pregnant.
Victim 2 is reportedly only one of 450,000 unaccompanied migrant children who have come into the U.S. during the past eight years and sent to live with family sponsors with the approval of HHS, which is the agency in charge of facilitating migrant children care.
“Critics say HHS rushes to get children out the door and then washes its hands of them by failing to conduct meaningful follow-ups,” wrote the Washington Times. “Under current rules, HHS has sponsors sign a form committing to provide safe homes and ensuring that the children show up for their immigration court hearings.
“During the Trump administration, the department tried to impose check-in requirements so federal authorities could gain some visibility on those applying to be sponsors. The Biden administration, facing an unprecedented surge of unaccompanied children and strained resources, reversed the changes and scrapped the plans for check-in requirements to get children out the door faster.”
The Times also said the Biden administration has also reduced the number of DNA tests of potential fake families and personnel responsible for searching for illegal immigrant children working as adults.
Some immigration experts believe that the concept of placing children with people who are also illegal immigrants creates dangerous risks and incentives for parents south of the border to send their children north, potentially getting the minors into dangerous situations.
In the instant, case, Catarina Domingo-Juan and Lorenza Domingo-Castaneda were illegally present in the U.S. and the latter crept across the border several times after being deported in 2016. The former has already pleaded guilty to using a false identity to gain work.
All three of the defendants are facing forced labor and kidnapping charges, and if convicted will face life in prison as well as mandatory restitution. A federal district court judge will have the power to determine any additional penalties after taking U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other federal statutes into consideration.
The U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security is continuing to investigate the case while federal prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central District of Illinois continue their prosecutorial efforts.