Official Overseeing Placement of Unaccompanied Alien Children Takes Heat From Congress
On April 18, the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, Subcommittee on National Security, the Border, and Foreign Affairs, held a hearing titled “Oversight of the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Unaccompanied Alien Children Program.” The official in charge of the program faced scrutiny from lawmakers as hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) have entered the United States on President Biden’s watch.
As FAIR has previously detailed, the U.S. has seen more than a 330 percent surge in average monthly Border Patrol apprehensions of UACs under Biden compared with Trump – from about 4,000 a month to more than 13,000 a month. Total apprehensions went from 30,557 in Fiscal Year 2020 to 144,834 in Fiscal Year 2021 and 149,093 in Fiscal Year 2022. Put another way, under Trump, we saw an average of 132 Border Patrol apprehensions of UACs each day. Under Biden, Border Patrol is averaging 440 per day.
Government whistleblowers have alleged children are knowingly placed with traffickers or forced into brutal manual labor. These reports have been confirmed in media reports, including reports by The New York Times and Washington Post. Against this backdrop, Republicans had pointed questions for the hearing’s sole witness, Director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), Robin Dunn Marcos.
In opening remarks, subcommittee Chairman Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) referenced a shocking March 29 Florida grand jury report on the mistreatment and abuse of UACs in sponsors’ care. “One [UAC] was found to have been offered for sex to men by her aunt, who she had never met before. One unaccompanied child reported their sponsor had previously been sent to prison for felony battery of a child,” Grothman explained. These outcomes have allegedly occurred despite the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) requiring the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to determine if a sponsor “is capable of providing for the child’s physical and mental well-being.” HHS is required to conduct home studies if there is a risk of abuse or mistreatment and to ensure UACs are “protected from traffickers and other persons seeking to victimize or otherwise engage such children in criminal, harmful, or exploitative activity.”
Congressman Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) highlighted that, on January 5, 2021, the Trump Administration proposed revising UAC sponsor application forms to conduct more thorough background checks, but the Biden Administration rescinded the proposal and reverted to less-detailed forms.
At the hearing, Marcos refused to commit to reissue the forms, and stated she “do[es] not believe that our current vetting is inadequate.” Congressman Gosar asked for ORR’s sponsor application rejection rate, and, revealingly, Marcos could not say. Incensed, Gosar admonished her: “You knew you were coming into this hearing. You knew these numbers were going to be asked. This is inappropriate behavior of somebody of your caliber…In theory, if ORR is doing the job and actually vetting the sponsors, it will have a statistically significant rejection rate.”
Congressman Scott Perry (R-Pa.) also became animated when questioning Marcos about criminal referrals ORR may have made to hold people accountable. “These children are coming, and they’re unaccompanied, because someone has abandoned them. Why don’t we refer charges for abandonment?” Perry asked. Marcos was unable to answer whether ORR has referred any sponsors on charges for abandonment.
Congressman Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), who introduced articles of impeachment against Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, offered context to show how the UAC demographic is misrepresented by the media to tug at Americans’ heartstrings. “Two-thirds of all UACs are boys. 72 percent are between the age of 15 and 18,” Biggs said. “When we think about it, we typically focus on babies, toddlers, pre-teens – and that’s about 15 percent.”
Marcos’ failure to adequately answer the subcommittee’s questions raises the stakes for House Republicans’ consideration of the comprehensive Border Security and Enforcement Act this week. One key plank of that legislation will help end the mass catch-and-release of children into the U.S. interior, thus reducing the likelihood they will end up with unsafe sponsors. Moreover, the bill will require the Department of Homeland Security to initiate removal proceedings within 30 days against sponsors who are not lawfully present.
FAIR calls on Americans across the country to contact their Congressperson and demand they pass the Border Security and Enforcement Act and reform the unaccompanied alien children program.
To watch the full Oversight hearing entitled “Oversight of the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Unaccompanied Alien Children Program,” please click here.