During an interview on San Francisco public station KQED’s “Forum,” Burke described the case of Marvin Velasco, now 15 years old, whose situation AP learned about through interviews. He was able to escape from his sponsor’s home.
Marvin came up here in September of 2014, sort of at that tail end of the huge surge of kids coming from Central America. He had a difficult journey here; he had to go across a river when he didn’t really know how to swim, sort of made his way through this frigid desert and then ultimately was picked up by border patrol agents, processed and sent to the home of a man … he had never met, who was the father of his brother-in-law. And this man was living in this really small apartment in L.A. So, Marvin woke up there the next morning after the government had placed him with this guy and found that there were actually nine other people living in the apartment. And pretty soon the sponsor told him, ‘You know I just don’t have enough money to feed you anymore and you really need to stay in the house. You can’t leave this apartment.’Obviously as a young man here in this foreign country, essentially being held in a locked apartment without food, Marvin really began to despair. Ultimately he was able to escape and ended up telling some parishioners at a nearby church all of this horrible – these horrible things he had gone through. And one of the parishioners stood up and said, ‘Well, I’ll take you in,’ and she’s now become his legal guardian. And he’s living in this new immigrant family in L.A. and is actually doing quite well.
Burke described a case from July in which federal prosecutors
sued sponsors in Ohio who had lured unaccompanied minors from Guatemala with
the promise of education. Instead, they were forced to work on egg farms under
threats of death. This case, Burke said, made headlines, but many others had
As part of my investigation for AP, I found other, troubling cases that hadn’t made the news at all. A young woman who was forced to work over a period of several months at cantinas in Florida where women drink and dance and, in some cases, are forced to have sex with patrons. A Guatemalan teen who was forced to work in a restaurant for 12 hours a day. So these kids are here, they’re in our communities, and sometimes the conditions that they’re living in are sort of hiding in plain sight.
Burke was also interviewed Monday by Los Angeles public station KPCC. She explained that sources told her these cases may just be the tip of the iceberg.
The government was so overwhelmed by the number of children appearing at the U.S. Southwest border that they started weakening some of the child protection processes that had been in place, sometimes for years, in order to really speed these children out of government shelters and into sponsors’ homes.