HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement Embraces Negligent Vetting Standards for Minors, While Muzzling Whistleblowers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), who serves on the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, is among a group of 39 Republican Senators demanding the Biden administration rewrite a proposed rule that would allow unvetted, potentially criminal sponsors to gain custody of unaccompanied alien children in the United States.

A letter to the heads of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and Administration for Children and Families chastises the harmful and deficient policies in the ORR proposed rule, which puts children at risk while also muzzling potential whistle blowers within HHS.  The Senators demand ORR rewrite its policies or face congressional action to overturn the finalized rule.

“This Proposed Rule ignores nearly seven years of oversight conducted by Congress and the Office of Inspector General, and reveals chronic foot-dragging—if not total reluctance—when it comes to protecting vulnerable children,” the Senators wrote.  “It provides ample protections to government bureaucrats at the expense of children.”

U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) led the letter, which rebukes the lax background checks for would-be sponsors because most of the checks are qualified as “may require” rather than “shall require.”

“In fact, ORR does not even consider a sponsor’s criminal record, current illegal drug use, history of abuse or neglect, or other child welfare concerns ‘necessarily disqualifying to potential sponsorship.’  ‘ORR would not disqualify potential sponsors based solely on their immigration status’ or ‘employment status,’ even if the sponsor was a complete stranger to the child,” the Senators wrote.  “In effect, ORR accepts a sponsor’s representations almost entirely on face value.  ORR then delivers the child at taxpayer expense and free-of-cost to the un-vetted sponsor, opening up the possibility that a vulnerable child could fall into the hands of a potentially criminal or drug-addicted sponsor.”

The Senators accuse the ORR of abdicating its responsibility for protecting the vulnerable children in its custody, a duty for which Congress provided the agency $5.5 billion in FY2022.

“The Proposed Rule is wholly unworkable and ORR should discard it and its current practices. If not, Congress will have no choice but to introduce a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act,” the Senators concluded.

The letter represents a continuation of Hyde-Smith’s criticism of the ORR and its dealings with minors crossing the southern border.  At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing in November, Hyde-Smith challenged the ORR policy of using taxpayer dollars to fund abortions for unaccompanied alien minors.

Hyde-Smith is also an original cosponsor of the Preventing the Recycling of Immigrants is Necessary for Trafficking Suspension (PRINTS) Act (S.3229), which would help combat trafficking and child recycling by giving U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) the authority to fingerprint non-citizens under the age of 14. 

Read the signed letter to ORR here.