GOP lawmaker says feds ignore human trafficking

Rep. Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessBipartisan House panel leaders ask agencies for maternal mortality data Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Sanders to roll out 'Medicare for all' bill | Dems target Juul over Altria ties | Measles cases spike nationwide GOP rep who supports lowering voting age: 'It's on us' if 16-year-olds vote Democratic MORE (R-Texas) on Thursday accused the Obama administration of failing to properly investigate potential instances of human trafficking along the Mexican border.

Burgess, an obstetrician and gynecologist who has visited the border, said he’s observed boys and girls under the age of 10 who displayed signs of abuse, but said federal workers are not told to investigate the cases or report them to state authorities.  

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“It’s like we’re indifferent to the fact that these children might have been sexually assaulted all the way up here,” Burgess said during a hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

The focus on human trafficking coincides with a child migrant crisis in the southern border states, which have seen floods of children as young as four seeking refuge, particularly in the last six months.

In many states, including Texas, medical professionals are required to report cases in which they suspect a person is a victim of sexual assault. Burgess said the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement will only investigate a potential case of human trafficking “when a child says, 'Yeah, I was a victim.'”

While he said every young girl is given a pregnancy test when she is brought into a U.S. center, she is “not further queried” about sex trafficking or assault.

“We’re enablers right now, as far as I can see. We are co-dependents with the child traffickers, and it is not a pretty story,” said Burgess, who represents the Dallas area.

Katherine Chon, who leads the national effort to combat human trafficking for the Administration for Children and Families, said additional training for medical providers can help identify and provide treatment for victims.

After more than a decade of focusing on international victims, Chon said the Department of Health and Human Services is looking to boost funding levels to assist domestic victims as well.  

Until last year, funding for human trafficking has remained at about $10 million for human trafficking victims, mostly those from other countries. The agency is now asking for about $8.2 million more.

Vendita Carter, the founder of nonprofit Breaking Free, recalled her own years in sex trafficking, in which her treatment was so brutal that she repeatedly attempted suicide.

“By the age of 12, I had a pimp. By this time, I had been beaten, burned, raped and assaulted,” Carter said, calling for doctors and nurses to be more informed about the issue.

Lawmakers said better training would be available nationwide under the Trafficking Awareness Training for Health Care Act.

“Many people do not realize this is happening in the United States. This is something we have to make sure our healthcare providers are understanding and are aware of,” said Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), who introduced the bill.