Listen Live
Listen Live

On Air Now

Brushwood Media Network
Brushwood Media Network

Report: Federal agencies not safeguarding unaccompanied minors

SHARE NOW

Another inspector general report has found that the federal agency responsible for caring for unaccompanied minors (UACs) brought into the United States is continuing to fail to vet sponsors and protect the children’s safety and well-being.

A Texas advocacy group is again renewing its call for state lawmakers to investigate and implement oversight measures since the majority of UACs are being housed in Texas.

“Now that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has announced interim charges for the Texas Senate to consider, Alliance for a Safe Texas is calling on him and House Speaker Dade Phelan to instruct legislators to investigate and provide oversight of the nongovernmental organizations based in Texas that are housing unaccompanied minors,” Sheena Rodriguez, the founder of Alliance for a Safe Texas, told The Center Square. “These include those involved in the Texas foster care system, which is impacted by the large influx of unaccompanied minors.”

Patrick recently released interim charges, which include border security initiatives to be considered by the Senate Border Security Committee chaired by Sen. Brian Birdwell. Rodriguez has met with Birdwell and other local officials calling on them to investigate and provide oversight.

“Our research has found that the majority of unaccompanied minors being brought into the country are being housed in facilities in Texas,” she said. “We garnered bipartisan support last year among state legislators, led by Rep. Stan Kitzman, to both enact reforms at the state legislative level and called on the attorney general’s office to investigate. While this was a positive step, we are calling on the legislature to prioritize this issue.”

“Texans may not realize that the majority of HHS-contracted facilities housing unaccompanied minors are in Texas,” Rodriguez told The Center Square. “Texas children are being put at risk by federal policies and the state must implement reforms to protect all children in its care.”

At least 52 HHS-contracted facilities housing UACs were operating statewide 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.

According to a new report published by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has continued to fail to properly vet sponsors and was not protecting the safety and well-being of UACs. ORR is housed within HHS’ Administration for Children and Families (ACF), which is tasked with caring for UACs arriving at the border.

The HHS OIG reviewed ORR’s implementation of sponsor screening and post-release follow-up calls for children in a sample evaluated from early 2021 at a time when ORR received a surge of UACs. It found that staff didn’t always perform background safety checks of sponsors, handed children over to sponsors who provided illegible identification, meaning they didn’t know who the sponsors were, and didn’t make mandatory home visits.

In 16% of UAC case files, one or more required sponsored safety checks lacked any documentation indicating the checks were conducted. In 35% of cases evaluated, sponsor-submitted ID’s contained legibility concerns. In 19% of cases evaluated, UACs were released to sponsors with pending FBI fingerprints or state child abuse and neglect registry checks and the case files were never updated with results.

The 62-page report also states that ORR didn’t always conduct mandatory home studies and raised concerns about whether ORR guidance on discretionary home studies should offer more specificity. In 5% of the cases evaluated, sponsor records within the ORR case management system were not updated with child welfare outcomes or sponsorship history.

ORR is required to call UACs within one month of their placement with a sponsor. In 22% of the cases, ORR did not conduct timely safety and well-being follow-up calls, including not making calls for nearly a year. In 18% of the cases, the follow-up calls were not documented in the case files, the report found.

The OIG made several recommendations to improve the process and ensure UAC’s safety, with which ACF concurred.

The administration claims it is reuniting children with family members through the program. A Florida grand jury report found this not to be the case, The Center Square reported. Another OIG report found that ORR released hundreds of UACs to sponsors to whom they were unrelated; many were living with strangers who expected them to work to pay for their accommodations. The U.S. Department of Labor is also investigating child labor violations related to UACs working in sanitation and slaughtering and meat packing plants, The Center Square reported.

While members of Congress have raised concerns about ORR failures and missing UACs, they continue to fund ORR.