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Grassley demands answers about alleged abuse of unaccompanied minors

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U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has launched a “sweeping review of potential abuse” of unaccompanied children (UACs) being brought into the U.S. and placed with sponsors or contracted facilities overseen by federal agencies responsible for their care.

Ongoing allegations of abuse persist, The Center Square has reported, with another recent federal audit showing how agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services continue to not properly vet sponsors or protect UACs’ safety and well-being.

The care of UACs falls under the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is housed in HHS’ Administration for Children and Families. ORR has placed UACs with non-vetted sponsors, including with gang members and non-family members, at nonresidential addresses, federal Inspector General audits and a Florida grand jury found. HHS also contracts with nongovernmental organizations to house and care for the UACs where alleged sexual abuse, sex trafficking and other crimes have been alleged, federal audits and investigations found.

Because the majority of HHS-contracted NGO facilities are operating in Texas, an advocacy organization, Alliance for a Safe Texas, has been calling on the Texas legislature to investigate. A recent Alliance report highlights years of allegations of abuse at several HHS-contracted facilities and the impact on local Texas communities.

At least 52 HHS-contracted facilities housing UACs were operating in Texas in 2020, according to a 2020 U.S. Government Accountability Office report. No other state has nearly the number of facilities or is receiving the volume of UACs than Texas.

From fiscal 2015 to 2023, the largest number of UACs by far – 82,391 – were released into Texas. California received 68,249; Florida, 60,192, The Center Square first reported.

Grassley has been a champion for UACs, demanding accountability from federal agencies for nearly a decade. Earlier this year, he shared with law enforcement potential evidence of suspected trafficking and smuggling of UACs through ORR’s UAC program and demanded HHS make immediate policy changes to ensure whistleblowers’ protections.

More recently, in February, Grassley contacted 15 HHS contractors and grantees seeking information about their involvement in the ORR UAC program. After hearing that HHS was reportedly attempting to prevent them from responding, Grassley confronted HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra at a congressional hearing in March.

On April 30, Grassley contacted another nine HHS contractors requesting information in response to whistleblower disclosures he received alleging widespread mismanagement in the ORR UAC program.

“My office has been informed through legally-protected whistleblower disclosures, including contractor records, showing children were sponsored without proper vetting or care, and at addresses that may be part of possible child-smuggling or trafficking rings,” Grassley wrote to contractors. “Shockingly, children were even placed by HHS and one of its contractors after they were notified of likely MS-13 gang affiliation in the household, and records related to this placement appear to have been deleted, a possible attempt to cover up actions taken by the contractor and HHS.

“There’s a critical need for this scrutiny,” he said, “given significant evidence that the safety and well-being” of UACs “has been compromised by HHS, ORR “and in some cases the contractors and grantees to whom these children were entrusted.”

Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, said it was “essential that recipients of taxpayer money provide a full accounting to Congress and the American people” on how it is being used. “That requirement is particularly heightened regarding the critical issue of caring for children and preventing evil actors from turning their young lives into a living hell through human smuggling and trafficking for sex or forced labor.”

In January, U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, subpoenaed Becerra for information about the program, The Center Square reported.

While other Senate Republicans have joined Grassley, arguing President Joe Biden “has created the largest child trafficking ring in U.S. history,” partially referring to ORR, 45 House Republicans voted with Democrats to not fire the director overseeing ORR, The Center Square reported. Congress also continues to fund the program.

The HHS contractors Grassley contacted include:

Rapid Deployment, Inc.,VisionQuest,National Ltd.,Baptist Christian Family Services Health and Human Services,Heartland Human Care Services,National Youth Advocate Program, Inc.,The Providencia Group LLC,Southwest Key Programs,Endeavors,Compass Connections,Cherokee Federal,Bethany Christian Services,Cayuga Centers,Asset Protection & Security Services, LP,A New Leaf, Inc.,A Greater Love Foster Family Agency,Deloitte Consulting LLP,Center for Family Services,General Dynamics Information Technology,Alba Care Services,Holy Family Institute,Global Refuge,U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants,Morrison Child and Family Services,Sunny Glen Children’s Home.