Tim Ballard, ‘Sound of Freedom’ movie subject, criticized the Democrats for downplaying the 85,000 unaccompanied minors who still remain unaccounted for and the “tragic plight of children” who are being sold into the sex trafficking industry after he appeared before the House Committee on Homeland Security.
Mr. Ballard was struck by how Democrats on the committee refused to address the 85,000 unaccounted-for children, choosing instead to reflect back to the separation policy in place three years ago and the 5,5000 children who were temporarily separated from their families under the administration of then-President Donald Trump.
“Clearly, they were trying to distract and deflect because there is no separation of families policy right now,” Mr. Ballard told The Epoch Times during an interview after his testimony in the House. “But there is an urgent situation going on with thousands of children right now.”
“According to the data I’ve seen, including from the president of Guatemala, somewhere between 70-75 percent of the children and women who are brought from Guatemala have been sexually abused and trafficked along the way,” Mr. Ballard told The Epoch Times. “Those kids aren’t just being used as pawns, they’re being sold and abused in any way that makes money for the trafficker.”
Mr. Ballard spent over 10 years as a Special Agent for the Department of Homeland Security as an undercover operative with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
In 2013, Mr. Ballard and a team of special operatives started a private organization called “Operation Underground Railroad.” His story is the inspiration behind the blockbuster movie, “Sound of Freedom.”
He testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security on Sept. 13 along with Sandy Snodgrass, founder of Alaska Fentanyl Response, Mayra Hinojosa Cantu, the wife of a U.S. Border Agent, and Lee Gelernt, the Deputy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Immigrants’ Rights Project.
Mr. Gelernt was the only witness for the Democratic Party minority.
Mr. Ballard found it “very interesting” how most Democrats on the committee confined their questions to Mr. Gelernt.
“Very few questions were asked to me,” he recalled, saying he could “count on one hand and only need three fingers” to reflect the number of questions Democrats asked of him.
“They didn’t want to have a conversation with someone who actually knows what’s going on at the border,” Mr. Ballard suggested. “They didn’t want to have a conversation with someone who has witnessed child trafficking and has rescued children using the laws that have been on the books for decades. I have used those laws. I have used the wall. I have used border enforcement to rescue many children on that southern border. I’m the last person they want to talk to.”
What bothered Mr. Ballard most during the hearing was Mr. Gelernt’s repeated effort to “downplay” and “dismiss” the fact that the government has lost track of 85,000 unaccompanied minors, the majority of whom he believes have been sold as sex slaves and into forced labor.
While he said the ACLU had sued the administration of Donald Trump over the 5,500 children separated from their families, Mr. Galernt admitted they had not sued the administration of President Joe Biden over the 85,000 they have lost track of.
“We always will sue over whichever administration is in place. But I think on those children, we don’t know that they were missing. I suspect that their sponsors often don’t answer calls from the government,” he said, adding, “I don’t know that they’re missing.”
Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.) asked Mr. Galernt how the ACLU feels about the “85,000 missing children,” and whether or not they were concerned that “their civil rights might be being violated.”
“Our view is that those children are not likely missing,” Mr. Galernt reiterated, saying, “The sponsors don’t simply answer the phone.”
Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.) asked Mr. Galernt if he considers it “a tragedy” that the 85,000 children are still unaccounted for.
“If the 85,000 are really missing and being exploited, absolutely,” he said.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Mr. Ballard reflected. “He kept saying, ‘Those children are not missing. We don’t consider them missing.’ I was just thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’ What is a missing kid, then? If a kid shows up in the care of the United States government and that kid leaves with someone they don’t know, and that person won’t respond, that’s a missing child. Downplaying the tragic plight of children who have come into our country and are delivered into the hands of who knows who and for what purpose puts kids in danger. I don’t know why you would do anything to put kids in danger, so I’m very disappointed by what they were doing.”
The 85,000 Children
A March 2023 report by the Council on Foreign Relations stated that “immigration authorities encountered more than 152,000 unaccompanied minors at or near the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2022, an all-time high.”
However, the 85,000 figure appears to have originated from a February 2023 The New York Times article about how migrant children are “arriving in record numbers” and working in jobs that “violate child labor laws.”
While this migrant-child labor force has been expanding for nearly 10 years, numbers have exploded since President Joe Biden assumed office in 2021. In the meantime, systems meant to protect these children from exploitation have simultaneously broken down or been eliminated.
The New York Times states that 130,000 unaccompanied minors entered the U.S. in 2022, “three times” the rate of five years ago, and although these children entered the United States unaccompanied, they were not “stolen into the country undetected.”
“The federal government knows they are in the United States, and the Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for ensuring sponsors will support them and protect them from trafficking or exploitation,” the article stated.
But the faster these unaccompanied children continue to arrive, the faster Mr. Biden’s administration pressures shelter staffers to quickly release them to “sponsors.” In that rush, “sponsors” aren’t being thoroughly vetted.
While HHS “checks on all minors by calling them a month after they begin living with their sponsors,” The New York Times obtained data revealing that the department was unable to contact 85,000 of the unaccompanied children who were released by HSS.
During an April 18 meeting of the Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs, HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement Director Robin Dunn Marcos was unable to answer questions like how HHS lost contact with over 85,000 unaccompanied children in the past two years, and about their lack of vetting to ensure that “sponsors” are fit to care for children.
Ms. Marcos admitted that only 37 percent of the unaccompanied children released by HSS actually “end up with their parent.”
The SECURE Act
Mr. Ballard suggested that the “solutions” to the child trafficking problems are “in the SECURE Act.”
On Sept. 12, Mr. Ballard joined Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) in Washington to introduce the Safeguarding Endangered Children, Unaccompanied and at Risk of Exploitation (SECURE) Act of 2023, which will force the administration to file reports, detailing its efforts to locate, contact, and to conduct wellness checks on the estimated 85,000 unaccompanied migrant children they lost track of after they were released from federal custody. They must also investigate any suspected cases of human trafficking related to those children.
“This legislation is exactly where we need to start,” Mr. Ballard said at the press conference. “This is an emergency and we need to stop the bleeding. We must save children and save them now.”