Carper, colleagues introduce bill to improve care, safety of unaccompanied minors at southern border
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, senior member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, along with Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut; and James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, introduced legislation — the Responsibility for Unaccompanied Minors Act — which requires the Department of Health and Human Services to keep better track of and care for unaccompanied children at the Southern border.
This measure, which was first introduced in September 2018, will help both ensure the children’s safety and ensure they appear at their immigration court proceedings. A summary of the bill is at bit.ly/3cESE0h and the bill text is available at bit.ly/2OGAq6B.
Since fiscal 2014, HHS has placed more than 325,000 unaccompanied children with adult sponsors in the U.S. while they wait for their immigration court proceedings. Prior to the pandemic, in fiscal 2019, HHS placed a record 69,488 unaccompanied children with sponsors in the U.S. In fiscal 2020, that number dropped significantly due to pandemic-related restrictions to 15,381. DHS forecasts suggest that 117,000 children may attempt to cross the southern border this year.
Following reports in 2015 that HHS placed eight unaccompanied children with human traffickers who put those children into forced labor in Ohio, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has been conducting oversight of HHS’s program to care for those children. PSI, led by then Chairman Portman and Ranking Member Carper, has documented its findings in three reports, released on Dec. 8, 2020, Aug. 15, 2018, and Jan. 28, 2016. PSI learned that no agency takes responsibility for enforcing sponsor agreements to care for these children once HHS places children with sponsors. PSI also learned that, although HHS began calling children and sponsors 30 days after placement after the Subcommittee’s 2016 report, HHS frequently could not reach the child or sponsor and could not determine their location with certainty — much less any information about the child’s well-being.
Based on those oversight findings, yesterday, Carper, Portman, Blumenthal and Lankford reintroduced the Responsibility for Unaccompanied Minors Act. The bill clarifies that HHS is responsible for ensuring these children’s safety. It requires HHS to run background checks before placing children with sponsors, to make sure sponsors live up to their agreement to care for the children and ensure they appear at their immigration court proceedings and to notify state governments before placing children in those states. And it increases immigration court judges so the Department of Justice can process all immigration cases more efficiently.
“For decades, we have seen waves of unaccompanied minors arrive at our southern border — young people who have left everything they know behind and made an incredibly dangerous journey in search of refuge,” said Carper. “In many cases, these children have traveled hundreds, if not thousands, of miles fleeing extreme poverty and unspeakable violence in their home countries. Thanks to the work we have done on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, we have seen that significant gaps in our broken immigration system continue to fail these migrant children and make an already challenging reality they face even more difficult, and, too often, more dangerous.”
“As the Biden administration grapples with the rise of children arriving at our southern border and seeks to implement measures to treat these migrant children with the dignity and the respect they deserve, there is more we can do on a bipartisan basis,” continued Carper. “This legislation we are reintroducing today will help to ensure we can protect an already vulnerable population and that we do not make it harder for these minors to adhere to our immigration processes. I want to thank my colleagues for their willingness to work toward productive solutions that keep these children safe, as we have a moral obligation to ensure that they are given a fair chance in our immigration system.”