Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is cosponsoring legislation introduced today by Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) to prevent exploitation of children who enter the country without parents or guardians. The Accountability for Care of Unaccompanied Alien Children Act strengthens background checks of potential sponsors seeking custody of a migrant child.
“All children deserve safe homes, regardless of their immigration status. We’ve known for a long time that background checks of potential sponsors for these children need improvement. We need to know that we are not placing these children with criminals or predators. This bill ensures that government officials have access to all available information about potential sponsors before entrusting them with the care of a child,” Grassley said.
“The U.S. has the responsibility to ensure an unaccompanied child in the care of HHS is placed with a responsible adult who will keep them out of harm’s way. This bill will promote greater information sharing between HHS and DHS, and hold them accountable in ensuring those placements are done with the child’s best interest,” Blackburn said.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at the Department of Health and Human Services is tasked with placing unaccompanied minors with permanent sponsors. However, ORR’s background check system doesn’t sufficiently screen sponsors for criminal backgrounds.
Grassley has long raised concerns about the inadequacy of the vetting system. According to whistleblower claims, vetting limitations dating back to the Obama administration have resulted in minors being placed with sponsors who have histories of violence, child abuse and human trafficking, among other offenses. An HHS official admitted during a 2018 Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing that the agency lost track of nearly 1,500 unaccompanied minors after their release from federal custody over a three-month span in 2017.
The Accountability for Care of Unaccompanied Alien Children Act makes much-needed improvements to ORR’s vetting system by allowing greater information sharing between HHS and the Department of Homeland Security. It ensures that ORR has access to the criminal and immigration histories of potential sponsors to more fully evaluate their suitability prior to placing minors in their custody. It also affirms that local, state and federal authorities may investigate suspected violations of the law. The legislation is also cosponsored by senators Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).