U.S. House committee subpoenas HHS in probe of care of unaccompanied minors

(The Center Square) – U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, subpoenaed U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra seeking information about policies related to oversight of unaccompanied alien children (UAC). Jordan and others have raised concerns about the vetting process of sponsors and UACs prior to their release into the country.

The committee’s probe continues after multiple reports and hearings have highlighted serious deficiencies within the UAC program administered by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is housed within HHS’ Office of the Administration for Children & Families.

According to a federal law passed in 2003, “When a child who is not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian is apprehended by immigration authorities, the child is transferred to the care and custody of” the ORR. Federal law requires ORR to provide them with food, shelter and medical care and release them “to safe settings with sponsors (usually family members), while they await immigration proceedings.”

Since last June, the committee has requested information about HHS policies related to UAC placement, sponsor vetting, and UACs with gang affiliations.

“The response, to date, has been woefully inadequate,” Johnson said Tuesday.

“For more than six months, the Committee has asked for Secretary Becerra’s cooperation with a series of requests,” he said, resulting from a transcribed interview that committee members had with ORR Director Robin Dunn Marcos. During the interview, she was unable to answer many of the questions asked of her, including about any policies related to referring UAC-known gang members to the Department of Justice, Johnson said in a letter to Becerra.

“Given HHS’s inadequate voluntary compliance,” he said he subpoenaed Becerra for the requested documents and information.

Marcos also failed to provide data requested by the committee, for example, about the number of UACs ORR placed into custody with known sex offenders or how many sponsor applications were rejected because the sponsor was a convicted murderer, the letter states.

HHS attorneys have told the committee they will provide the requested information, which has not yet happened.

Alliance for a Safe Texas President Sheena Rodriguez said the subpoena and House oversight was needed, as are reforms, which she has been calling on Congress and the Texas legislature to implement. She said, “it is past time for accountability.”

Multiple federal and state investigations have found serious deficiencies of ORR oversight, including allegations of sexual abuse and ORR no longer having oversight of UACs once they are in the U.S. A recently published Alliance report highlights years of allegations of abuse at several HHS-contracted facilities and the impact on local communities.

Rodriguez testified before the committee last year where she raised concerns about the UAC program. She has called on the Texas legislature to establish regulatory oversight of facilities housing UACs and require minimum safety and vetting standards.

Rodriguez and others have noted that failed oversight of UACs has led to violent crimes being committed against Americans.

In one of many examples, a 24-year-old Honduran man claimed he was a UAC after illegally entering Texas and was released by Border Patrol agents to ORR. ORR then paired him with a sponsor in Jacksonville, Florida, whom he stabbed to death. It wasn’t Border Patrol agents or HHS officials who confirmed his identity prior to his release but Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office deputies after the crime was committed, authorities said.

In another case, a Salvadoran UAC and known MS-13 gang member was released by Border Patrol agents in Texas to ORR, which arranged his transport to Maryland to live with his aunt. Instead, the UAC rented a room from an illegal foreign national and went on to brutally rape and murder a 20-year-old autistic woman.

A Florida grand jury investigation also found that the ORR lost track of UACs in its care, performed no background checks on sponsors, that UACs were victims of human trafficking and child abuse, placed with sponsors with criminal records and “placed in dangerous environments and with dangerous sponsors.” Its investigation also noted that “criminal history, lack of citizen status and even total refusal to submit to a background check” didn’t disqualify sponsors from receiving minors through ORR.

From fiscal years 2015 to 2023, the greatest total number of UACs were “resettled” to Texas, followed by California and Florida, The Center Square has reported.

From March 2003 to July 2022, ORR says it cared for more than 409,550 UACs nationwide. The overwhelming majority are m

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