Migrant Family (File)

GOP Reps Demand Transparency Over Thousands Of Migrant Children Reportedly Lost

Migrant Family (File)
Migrant Family (File)

A group of House Republicans wrote a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday demanding information about how his department managed unaccompanied alien children (UACs), according to a copy obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

UACs who cross into the United States over the international border with Mexico are normally transferred to the custody of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), however a February 2023 report found that that the office lost track of over 85,000 such children after their placement in the care of U.S.-based sponsors.

A group of 10 House Republicans, led by Rep. Lance Gooden of Texas, are demanding information about how the department approves sponsors and its efforts to keep track of the children.

Read: Immigration Judges Toss 200,000 Deportation Cases Because DHS Didn’t File Paperwork

“We are concerned that fraud surrounding UAC sponsorship is severe due to ORR’s lackluster policies and procedures to verify a sponsor’s identity and relationship to the child. Children apprehended, transported, and processed alone are not safe from human traffickers, who may pose as sponsors once migrant children are flown throughout the country by the federal government,” the signatories wrote. “In 2022, HHS removed the requirement to collect documentation from potential sponsors that verify their immigration status or U.S. citizenship in the Family Reunification application. This is a clear failure that leaves migrant children vulnerable and provides criminals with an easy gateway into the United States.”

The letter seeks information on why the ORR discontinued a requirement that sponsors of UAC only be U.S. citizens and how family relationships between sponsors and UACs are verified. 

It also seeks information on the circumstances in which sponsors are waived from being subject to an FBI National Criminal History Check, state child abuse and neglect (CA/N) registries and public records checks, as well as disclose the number of “safety and well-being follow-up calls” conducted by ORR staff and whether these resulted in any subsequent action.

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“Human trafficking is an abhorrent crime, but the Biden administration’s irresponsible policies are making it easier for traffickers to exploit vulnerable children,” Gooden told the DCNF. “It is imperative HHS immediately address these failures and implement stringent measures to protect these children from further harm.”

The letter was co-signed by Republican Reps. Chip Roy and Pete Sessions of Texas, Tom Tiffany and Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin and Clay Higgins of Louisiana, among others. House Republicans have highlighted lost migrant children as part of a broader criticism of the Biden administration’s border security policies.

The Office of the HHS Inspector General, an in-house office that investigates the department’s activities, published a report in February stating that ORR had failed to conduct safety and well-being calls in 22% of cases and that sponsor-submitted IDs had legibility concerns in 35% of cases. In 19% of cases, ORR did not update the files of those released to sponsors whose FBI and other law enforcement background checks were pending, the report noted.

Read: Poll: Despite Biden’s Apology, Strong Majority OK With Using “Illegal” For Border-Crossers

“To ensure the record number of children at our southern border are safe and placed with properly vetted sponsors throughout the country, the Biden administration must provide more transparency into the policies and procedures surrounding UACs,” the signatories wrote.

HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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