February 22,2016

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Aaron Fobes, Julia Lawless (202)224-4515

Feds Fall Short in Care, Tracking of unaccompanied Children

WASHINGTON – Senators Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson today released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the steps the Department of Health and Human Services can take to monitor unaccompanied minors in the United States who illegally crossed the southern border.
The report showed that the Obama administration isn’t adequately monitoring the grantees or sponsors who are entrusted to provide basic care for unaccompanied minors.  The Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency charged with placing unaccompanied minors crossing the southern U.S. border with appropriate sponsors, has incomplete records, is not adequately monitoring the facilities that house the children, and doesn’t have a consistent system to follow up on the children once they’ve been placed with sponsors.
The GAO reviewed the policies of the Office of Refugee Resettlement after Grassley, Hatch and then- Senator Tom Coburn had questioned the ability of the office to accommodate the 2014 influx and if it was prepared to deal with another surge of unaccompanied minors.
“Time and again we learn of troubling reports regarding unaccompanied children facing not only homelessness and poverty but at risk of gang violence or criminal activities. Often times, such disturbing outcomes are a direct result of wide-spread system failures,” said Hatch. “In fact, the non-partisan GAO, recently found that the Department of Health and Human Services can do more to monitor the placement of these children and ensure higher-quality care.  Clearly, we can do better. That’s why I’ll be working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to explore effective and viable policy options that will put an end to systemic, bureaucratic failures and instead provide a path towards a brighter future for these children,” Hatch said.
“Based on the findings in this report, it’s no wonder that we are hearing of children being mistreated or simply falling off the grid once they are turned over to sponsors.  It’s hard to believe, but it’s as if the Office of Refugee Resettlement doesn’t believe it’s their obligation to track or monitor the well-being of these children once they’re released.  Beyond the risks to the kids created by these shortcomings, our communities are left to cope with the crime and violence from gang members and other delinquents who are not identified or tracked because of HHS’s haphazard and porous practices,” Grassley said.
“According to this report, children who embark on the dangerous trip from Central America to the United States have been traumatized by their journey, telling of deeply disturbing incidents. The GAO found that their mistreatment does not always end at our border. As the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s oversight of the humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied children has revealed, this crisis is not going away.  The administration has become more efficient at apprehending, processing and dispersing children across the country, some into terrible situations.  Today, the GAO confirms the negative unintended consequences created by the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and other flawed policies and laws,” Johnson said.
Conclusions from the GAO report include:
·         While the Office of Refugee Resettlement had made steps to handle the surge of unaccompanied minors by increasing capacity, it cannot adequately predict the facilities and beds that are needed for future surges.
·         The data collected by grantees to screen sponsors and provide services to the unaccompanied minors is incomplete and the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s monitoring of the grantees is inconsistent.
·         The agency is failing to monitor the facilities that care for the children, and failed to visit some of them for as many as seven years.
·         It’s unclear what post-release services are provided, and whether the children’s well-being and access to services are being met.
·         Children are being placed quicker in non-federal facilities in part because of a suspension of fingerprinting, waivers for abuse and neglect checks, and allowing photocopies of birth certificates.
The Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at 10 a.m., entitled, “The Unaccompanied Children Crisis: Does the Administration have a Plan to Stop the Border Surge and Adequately Monitor the Children?”  The hearing is expected to provide committee members insight into the administration’s handling of unaccompanied minors, from entry to removal, and what is being done to prevent future surges of children and families at the border.
On January 28, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee held a hearing on a committee report about the deficiencies in the procedures used by the Department of Health and Human Services to safely place unaccompanied alien children with sponsors in the United States.
Grassley, Hatch and Johnson are chairmen of the Judiciary, Finance, and Homeland Security and Government Affairs committees, respectively.