GOP senators push for change of ‘alarming’ Biden rule on unaccompanied migrant children

More than three dozen Republican senators are calling for the Biden administration to back off on a proposed rule that they are concerned weakens the vetting of adults taking custody of unaccompanied migrant children.

In a Monday letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials, 39 GOP lawmakers requested that the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) withdraw its “Unaccompanied Children Program Foundational Rule” which they described as “alarming, dangerous, and potentially illegal.”

“This Proposed Rule ignores nearly seven years of oversight conducted by Congress and the Office of Inspector General and reveals chronic foot-dragging — if not total reluctance — when it comes to protecting vulnerable children,” the senators said in their letter to Office of Refugee Resettlement Director Robin Dunn Marcos and Jeff Hild, the acting Assistant Secretary of the Administration for Children and Families.

“UACs are transferred from Border Patrol custody to the care of HHS, who then move to unite the migrant with an adult sponsor, often a relative. However, the agency’s handling of the surge in UACs came under scrutiny this year after reports of children being trafficked into the labor force and the agency being unable to contact sponsors after giving them care of a minor,” according to Fox News.

“In FY2021, the Office on Trafficking in Persons saw a more than 140% increase from the previous year in requests for assistance on behalf of foreign national children,” the GOP senators wrote. The majority of these requests were for unaccompanied alien children between the ages of 13 and 17.5.

“Despite the staggering number of unaccompanied children, the Proposed Rule makes most vetting for sponsors of unaccompanied minors simply optional. ORR may require ‘an investigation of the living conditions,’ ‘verification of the identity and employment of the individuals offering support,’ ‘interviews of members of the household,’ ‘a home visit,’ ‘review of [the sponsor’s] past criminal history,’ ‘fingerprinting,’ consulate checks of sponsor identification, or ‘a background check on the proposed sponsor.’ However, these basic checks are not necessary to receive custody of a child,” the letter states.

“In fact, ORR does not even consider a sponsor’s criminal record, current illegal drug use, history of abuse or neglect, or other child welfare concerns ‘necessarily disqualifying to potential sponsorship,’” wrote the lawmakers. “’ORR would not disqualify potential sponsors based solely on their immigration status’ or ‘employment status,’ even if the sponsor was a complete stranger to the child.”

“In effect, ORR accepts a sponsor’s representations almost entirely on face value. ORR then delivers the child at taxpayer expense and free-of-cost to the un-vetted sponsor, opening up the possibility that a vulnerable child could fall into the hands of a potentially criminal or drug addicted sponsor. At this point, ORR considers its work largely done,” the senators stated.

“ORR’s Proposed Rule abdicates the agency’s responsibility for protecting the vulnerable children in its custody from harmful behavior by poorly vetted, potential criminals,” the letter reads. “The Proposed Rule is wholly unworkable and ORR should discard it and its current practices. If not, Congress will have no choice but to introduce a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act.”

“HHS is committed to the well-being and safety of unaccompanied children in our care,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a September statement on the rule. “This proposed rule takes significant steps to ensure that these vulnerable children are protected and supported as they transition into new communities.”

Chris Donaldson

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