Obama administration placed children with human traffickers, report says

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The Obama administration failed to protect thousands of Central American children who have flooded across the U.S. border since 2011, leaving them vulnerable to traffickers and to abuses at the hands of government-approved caretakers, a Senate investigation has found.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, failed to do proper background checks of adults who claimed the children, allowed sponsors to take custody of multiple unrelated children, and regularly placed children in homes without visiting the locations, according to a 56-page investigative report released Thursday.

And once the children left federally funded shelters, the report said, the agency permitted their adult sponsors to prevent caseworkers from providing them post-release services.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) initiated the six-month investigation after several Guatemalan teens were found in a dilapidated trailer park near Marion, Ohio, where they were being held captive by traffickers and forced to work at a local egg farm. The boys were among more than 125,000 unaccompanied minors who have surged into the United States since 2011, fleeing violence and unrest in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

“It is intolerable that human trafficking — modern-day slavery — could occur in our own backyard,” Portman said in a written statement. “What makes the Marion cases even more alarming is that a U.S. government agency was responsible for delivering some of the victims into the hands of their abusers.”

The report concluded that administration “policies and procedures were inadequate to protect the children in the agency’s care.”

HHS spokesman Mark Weber said in a statement that the agency would “review the committee’s findings carefully and continue to work to ensure the best care for the children we serve.”

The report was released ahead of a hearing Thursday before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Portman co-chairs with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). It detailed nearly 30 cases where unaccompanied children had been trafficked after federal officials released them to sponsors or where there were “serious trafficking indicators.”

For example, one Guatemalan boy planned to live with his uncle in Virginia. But when the uncle refused to take the boy, he ended up with another sponsor, who forced him to work nearly 12 hours a day to repay a $6,500 smuggling debt, which the sponsor later increased to $10,900, the report said.

A boy from El Salvador was released to his father even though he told a caseworker that his father had a history of beating him, including hitting him with an electrical cord. In September, the boy alerted authorities that his father was forcing him to work for little or no pay, the report said; a post-release service worker later found the boy was being kept in a basement and given little food.

The Senate investigation began in July after federal prosecutors indicted six people in connection with the Marion labor-trafficking scheme, which involved at least eight minors and two adults from the Huehuetenango region of Guatemala.

One defendant, Aroldo Castillo-Serrano, 33, used associates to file false applications with the government agency tasked with caring for the children, and bring them to Ohio, where he kept them in squalid conditions in a trailer park and forced them to work 12-hour days, at least six days a week, for little pay. Castillo-Serrano has pleaded guilty to labor-trafficking charges and awaits sentencing in the Northern District of Ohio in Toledo.

The FBI raided the trailer park in December 2014, rescuing the boys, but the Senate investigation says federal officials could have discovered the scheme far sooner.

In August 2014, a child-welfare caseworker attempted to visit one of the children, who had been approved for post-release services because of reported mental-health problems, according to the report.

The caseworker went to the address listed for the child, but the person who answered the door said the child didn’t live there, the report added. When the caseworker finally found the child’s sponsor, the sponsor blocked the caseworker from talking to the child.

Instead of investigating further, the caseworker closed the child’s case file, the report said, citing “ORR policy which states that the Post Release Services are voluntary and sponsor refused services.”

That child was found months later, living 50 miles away from the sponsor’s home and working at the egg farm, according to the report. The child’s sponsor was later indicted.

VanSickle is a reporter for the Investigative Reporting Program, a nonprofit news organization at the University of California at Berkeley.

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Before JFK, Oswald Tried to Kill an Army Major General

Seven months before he shot President Kennedy, Lee Harvey Oswald tried to kill Major General Edwin Walker

Major General Edwin Walker

By Colin Schultz, October 4, 2013
smithsonian.com

Seven months before Lee Harvey Oswald shot President John F. Kennedy, he took his Mannlicher-Carcano rifle to Major General Edwin Walker‘s house, stood by the fence, aimed towards the window, and shot at him. Walker was a stark anti-communist voice and an increasingly strident critic of the Kennedy’s, whose strong political stances had him pushed out of the army in 1961. In an excerpt, published at the Daily Beast, from a new book, Dallas 1963, Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis tell the story of how Walker found himself in the sights of Lee Harvey Oswald.

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On April 10, 1963, Oswald left his wife a note and made for Walker’s house. He took aim, ready to carry out his thoroughly researched plan.

Oswald lifts his rifle and stares into the window. Surrounding Walker are folders, books, and stacks of packages wrapped in brown shipping paper. The walls are decorated with panels of foil wallpaper embossed with an Asian-style flower motif. Walker’s head is in profile. He has a pencil in hand, and he is perfectly still, focused on something at his desk. From outside looking in, it must look a bit like a painting—as if Walker is caught in thought with the right side of his face clearly visible.

Oswald squints into his telescopic sight, and Walker’s head fills the view. He looks so close now, and he’s sitting so still, that there’s no possible way to miss. Drawing a tight bead on Walker’s head, he pulls the trigger. An explosion hurtles through the night, a thunder that echoes to the alley, to the creek, to the church and the surrounding houses.

Walker flinches instinctively at the loud blast and the sound of a wicked crack over his scalp—right inside his hair. For a second, he is frozen. His right arm is still resting on the desk alongside his 1962 income tax forms. He doesn’t know it, but blood is beginning to appear.

Oswald missed his shot and escaped into the night. “The Warren Commission, relying on testimony from Oswald’s widow, Marina, said Oswald tried to kill the general because he was “an extremist,”” says the New York Times. The next day, Walker was interviewed about the attempted assassination:

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North Carolina elections board chairman resigns, says he doesn’t want his partisan views to hurt election fraud investigation

North Carolina elections board chairman resigns, says he doesn’t want his partisan views to hurt election fraud investigation

By Amy Gardner December 1

TAR HEEL, N.C. — The Democratic chairman of the state elections board in North Carolina resigned Saturday, saying he did not want his partisan views to undermine a widening investigation into alleged election fraud in the 9th Congressional District race.

Andy Penry, chairman of the nine-member State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement, said in a statement to the board obtained by The Washington Post that he was stepping away to allow the investigation to continue “free of attempts at distraction and obstruction so that the truth can be revealed.”

Penry has fielded criticism from North Carolina Republican officials, who have pointed to his Twitter posts — which include a number of tweets highly critical of President Trump — as evidence that the board’s investigation is partisan and baseless.

“The investigation of criminal conduct and absentee voting fraud in the 2018 Republican primary and 2018 general election in congressional District 9 is a matter of vital importance to our democracy,” Penry wrote in the statement. “I will not allow myself to be used as an instrument of distraction in this investigation.”

Penry’s decision came after the nine-member elections board — which includes four Democrats, four Republicans and one unaffiliated voter — agreed unanimously Tuesday to delay certification of the results in the 9th District election amid allegations of an effort to fill in or discard the absentee ballots of Democratic voters.

Republican Mark Harris, who beat incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger in the primary, leads Democrat Dan McCready in the race by only 905 votes, according to unofficial returns.

On Friday, the state board voted 7 to 2 to continue investigating the fraud allegations, leaving open the possibility that a new election could be called. The Associated Press announced it was revoking its projection that Harris won the seat in southeastern North Carolina.

[N.C. election officials plan hearing over fraud concerns in U.S. House race, raising possibility of new election]

The inquiry further roiled a state already divided over issues of voting rights, voter suppression and fraud.

In a statement Friday, Harris accused the election board of a lack of transparency and called for the results to be immediately certified.

“Make no mistake, I support any efforts to investigate allegations of irregularities and/or voter fraud, as long as it is fair and focuses on all political parties,” Harris said. “But to date, there is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race. Accordingly, the Board should act immediately to certify the race while continuing to conduct their investigation. Anything else is a disservice to the people of the Ninth District.”

Read the Full Article in The Washington Post