US Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on March 22, 2023. (Photo by STEFANI REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
OAN’s Taylor Tinsley
3:52 PM – Wednesday, July 26, 2023
A House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee grilled President Biden’s Health and Human Services secretary, Xavier Becerra, over how the administration has handled an exponential surge in unaccompanied migrant children.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle laid into Becerra on Wednesday, as the amount of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border has soared under the Biden administration.
Subcommittee Chairman Representative Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) said from fiscal year (FY) 2018 to 2020 the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) averaged around 44,500 referrals per year, compared to the near 60,000 referrals the agency reported for FY 2023.
Griffith said it appears unaccompanied migrant children’s welfare is not a primary concern, but rather the priority seems to have been “moving children out of ORR facilities as quickly as possible.”
“That would explain why you would have approved policies like ORR field guidance 10, which expedites release of minors to people claiming to be family members,” Griffith told Becerra. “It would also explain your approval of ORR field guidance 11, which waives background check requirements for unrelated adults who live in the same residence a minor is being sent to.”
Becerra said ORR has placed more than 83,000 children with vetted sponsors this fiscal year, 85% of which he asserted were placed with a parent, legal guardian, or those claiming to be a close family member.
The secretary attempted to back up the department’s “thorough vetting process” for each sponsor, but let it slip that DNA testing is voluntary. Becerra also clarified HHS does not notify local social services or departments of child welfare in the communities where children are being placed out of concern to “protect the privacy of the children.”
At today’s hearing, I questioned Secretary Becerra about a number of ORR practices, including ways ORR establishes familial relationships between minors and sponsors and if they work with local child welfare agencies. pic.twitter.com/HhsdMMIDeO
— Morgan Griffith (@RepMGriffith) July 26, 2023
“We work with the local agencies once a child has been placed if there’s a need to support them,” Becerra said. “HHS’s custodial responsibility for unaccompanied children legally ends once we place them in the custody of a vetted sponsor.”
At the hearing Representative Michael Burgess (R-Texas) shed light on an investigation from a Florida statewide grand jury that found a single family home in Austin, Texas had more than 100 children sent to it by ORR. Another address in Texas had 44 children and another had 25.
“They were sent by you, not the cartels,” Burgess told Becerra.
A severe lack of background checks isn’t the only concern, as some migrant children as young as 13 continue to work dangerous jobs all over the country that violate child labor laws. “This is real, it’s repulsive, and it’s unacceptable,” Becerra admitted.
The secretary said HHS is coordinating with the department of labor to crackdown on illegal child labor, but claimed he holds ORR and the entire agency to the highest standard to ensure they can provide care in the child’s best interest.
Becerra asserted HHS is committed to expanding access to post-release services – with adequate funding from Congress.
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