AMU Immigration Law Enforcement Original Public Safety

Practical Solutions to Solve the Crisis at the Southwest Border

Note: This is the third article in a three-part series involving my visit to the southwest border of the U.S. in February 2024.

In the first and second articles in this three-part series, I discussed the horrifying stories of migrants who had been trafficked and smuggled to the southwest border of the U.S. But this problem at the southwest border is so massive, so what can be done to mitigate it?

Potential Solutions to the Southwest Border Crisis

One way to mitigate this crisis is to take better care of the unaccompanied children who are trafficked to the U.S. In addition to the danger of being kidnapped or sexually assaulted by cartel members on the trip to the border, these children are at further risk once they arrive in the U.S.

When unaccompanied children are presented to Border Patrol at the United States border, they are processed and transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). According to HHS, they have “found suitable sponsors” for more than 700,000 unaccompanied children.

Based on my research and talks with experts who know the sponsorship process, there is very little vetting that happens when HHS places children in the custody of sponsors. I’ve been told that gangs and cartels even compel people to sponsor some of these children.

The New York Times published a piece regarding unaccompanied minors processed by HHS. It stated that “a majority of them now are going to non-parent sponsors. Those children are often expected to find work and help their families back home.”

The current policy regarding unaccompanied minors creates a major risk because these children can be exploited by human traffickers. These children may not speak English and have no way to report their exploitation.

The New York Times article highlighted cases where some of these children experienced serious injuries and death. The reporter also discussed locations where “more than 90% of migrant children were released to non-parent sponsors.”

According to The Center Square, the three states that have received the highest number of unaccompanied minors are:

  • Texas
  • California
  • Florida

Congressional Testimony from an HHS Whistleblower

On April 23, 2023, Health and Human Services whistleblower Tara Lee Rodas testified to the Congressional House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Integrity,  Security, and Enforcement.

I have personally spoken with Ms. Rodas. She has firsthand knowledge of what is happening because she worked for HHS on a temporary assignment.

As a part of Operation Artemis, Ms. Rodas volunteered to leave her home agency – the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency – and go on a detail assignment with HHS. 

She was deployed to the Pomona Fairplex Emergency Intake Site in California and believed she was there to help place children in loving homes.

During her testimony to Congress, Ms. Rodas stated, “Today, children will work overnight shifts at slaughterhouses, factories, and restaurants to pay their debts to smugglers and traffickers. Today, children will be sold for sex.

“I discovered that children are being trafficked through a sophisticated network that begins with being recruited in [their] home country, smuggled to the U.S. border, and ends when ORR delivers a child to sponsors – some sponsors are criminals and traffickers and members of transnational criminal organizations.”

The crux of the problem is that in most cases, the children determine their sponsors at the border. Based on the testimony from a child (or the written information pinned to the child’s clothing or given to the child en route), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) documents the child’s U.S. point of contact (POC). 

When children leave CBP custody and are transferred into the custody of HHS, the U.S. POC information is passed to HHS employees. HHS uses the U.S. POC as the sponsor. 

In most cases, HHS does not do the work of identifying the sponsors. Small children, like the ones in images posted by Lt. Chris Olivarez on X for #OperationLoneStar, are identifying their sponsors.

Because HHS employers are not vetting the POC information migrant children give to officials, that is a failure of the Unaccompanied Children Program.

In addition, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is also a part of HHS, has no ability to safely vet the sponsors of these migrant children. Ms. Rodas testified, “Children become captive to their sponsors.”

Ms. Rodas also provided insight into where these migrant children are sent and who tries to sponsor them. She observed, “I saw apartment buildings where 20, 30, and 40 unaccompanied children have been released. I saw sponsors trying to simultaneously sponsor children from multiple sites.”

Perhaps most alarming was her testimony stating that “I saw numerous cases of children in debt bondage, and the child knew they had to stay with the sponsor until the debt was paid. I witnessed firsthand the horrors of child trafficking and exploitation.”

Addressing the crisis at the border should begin with changing the unaccompanied minor policy. Traffickers and cartels pursue the easiest paths to make money. Changing the unaccompanied minor program is essential to stopping cartels who exploit the lack of vetting in regard to placing migrant children with sponsors. 

At minimum, children should be given the same protections that exist for adults. Currently, the sponsors of adult migrants have more stringent vetting requirements than the sponsors of children.

HHS is not a law enforcement or investigative agency, so it does not have the proper personnel to vet sponsors. The Office of Refugee Resettlement should be completely restructured. It has demonstrated an inability to mitigate child trafficking patterns and to identify threats.

Changing US Policies That Encourage Human Smuggling

The border crisis cannot be a political issue. People’s lives are at stake.

According to Customs and Border Protection, over 7.5 million migrant encounters have occurred at the southwest border since the start of 2021, and over 2.4 million southwest border encounters occurred in 2023. However, these numbers only account for migrant encounters and do not reflect the “got-aways” (people who were observed but not captured).

Also, these numbers do not reflect the illegal migrants who pass through our northern border and south Florida. These numbers are unprecedented.

There is a consensus in Latin America and around the world that the U.S. border is open because existing immigration laws are not properly enforced. That mindset is true in the sense that lax border policies have fostered illegal immigration and cartel-fueled human trafficking.

What I learned from speaking with experts on the border is that if Border Patrol apprehends someone from Mexico, that person is often sent back the same day. However, if migrants are from nearly any other country, they are processed and transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

When ICE does not have detention space for those migrants, they are released and given a court date of 4 to 7 years in the future. When these migrants are let go, they may be sent to facilities managed by nearby nonprofit or religious shelters, or they may be released directly onto the streets.

A report from the Associated Press says that some asylum seekers won’t receive a court date for 10 years regarding their immigration status. By not stopping illegal immigration at the border and releasing millions of people, these policies encourage human trafficking, human smuggling, and illegal immigration at unmanageable levels.

Immigration laws need to be upheld more strictly, instead of issuing court dates that are years in advance. True deterrence through better enforced immigration policies is the first step to discouraging people from coming to the U.S illegally. Instead, illegal migrants are incentivized to illegally enter the United States.

NGO Activity Also Needs Stricter Monitoring

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), reimbursed by FEMA, operate along the U.S.-Mexico border, and they often house migrants once they are processed through Border Patrol. Migrants are given free shelter, food and clothing.

During my border visit, I saw migrants wearing tennis shoes that cost at least a couple hundred dollars. Accountability and oversight of the NGOs operating along the border is greatly needed.

Illegal Immigration Is Also Costing Taxpayers

According to the transcript of a Congressional hearing held on January 11, 2024, “Illegal immigrants make extensive use of welfare. Based on government data, we estimate that 59 percent of households headed by illegal immigrants use one or more major welfare programs, compared to 39 percent of households headed by the U.S.-born.”

The testimony at the Congressional hearing also noted that:

  • Illegal immigrants can receive welfare on behalf of U.S.-born children.
  • Illegal immigrant children can receive school lunch/breakfast and WIC directly.
  • A number of states provide Medicaid to some illegal immigrants.

There are steps for people to come legally to the U.S. These steps are not followed because agriculture businesses depend on migrant labor.

People who are genuinely coming to the U.S. for opportunity and safety should come through legal pathways. Illegal immigration must not be condoned.

Border Security Needs Improvement, Especially at the Southwest Border of the US

The last step is the improvement border security. What good does it do to have Border Patrol standing watch on the border so that illegal migrants may approach them and ask to be processed and released into the U.S.?

A lot of public focus is on the border wall. While the border wall is necessary in certain areas, it is not the only answer to the problem of illegal immigration, human trafficking and drug trafficking.

The topography changes along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. Some areas have natural land borders where a wall is unnecessary.

During my trip, I learned that the appropriate infrastructure to create a barrier depends on the border area. Other steps needed to secure the border include a greater investment in technology and additional Border Patrol agents.

Camera systems are vital along the border because they act as a force multiplier. Some areas such as the desert need a linear camera system, while other border areas such as the Texas town of McAllen need look-down cameras.

Current Government Immigration Policies Leave the US More Vulnerable to Terrorists

The southwest border crisis is impacting communities throughout the United States and the current government policies are contributing to the crisis.

While the vast majority of people coming to the United States illegally are seeking a better life and an escape from corruption and death in their home countries, the open borders policy has exponentially increased the risk of terrorism in the U.S. Millions of people have entered the U.S. without being processed.

I spoke with a former cartel affiliate recently. After incarceration in California, he was deported to Central America, where I met him.

He explained, “It’s out of order. Cartels have broken into many cells and have no chain of command.

“They are committing crimes against humanity. Most people wouldn’t understand how many lives have been destroyed by the cartels. Human trafficking has become normalized.”

This man also expressed concern for terrorism in the U.S. due to the open borders policy. He explained that in the past, cartel leadership would not permit cartel members to smuggle anyone with suspected ties to terrorism into the U.S.

Cartel leaders were concerned that if another 9/11 occurred, it could be linked back to the cartel and interrupt their operations.

My informant explained that many people have now gotten involved in human smuggling and trafficking. The involvement of so many criminals in smuggling occurs because people are currently allowed to stay in the U.S. once they are processed by Border Patrol.

He also observed that there is no longer a concern about bringing someone into the United States with ties to terrorism, due to the volume of people being brought into the U.S.

Criminals are no longer worried that another 9/11 will interrupt their operations. Since cartels have broken into so many smaller cells, leadership does not have the same influence it once did.

According to NBC News, 216 people on the terrorist watchlist were stopped at the southwest border during fiscal year 2023, compared to 165 in 2022. The question remains: How many terrorists have entered the U.S. without being stopped and live in our communities today?

Now Is the Time to Act and Solve the Problems at Our Borders, Especially the Southwest Border

The crisis at the southwest border is so massive that it will take years to solve the problems of illegal immigration, smuggling and human/drug trafficking. But changing government policies, monitoring humanitarian aid by NGOs, and enforcing laws more strictly are at least steps in the right direction.

Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies and has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. For more information on Jarrod and links to his social media and website, check out

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