FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 14, 2018
“I am extremely troubled by reports that ORR is considering housing them in ‘tent cities’ at military bases in Texas”
Washington, D.C. – Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) sent a letter today to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar expressing grave concerns about the health and safety of children in the custody of HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). ORR is the department responsible for caring for children who enter the United States without immigration status and parent or legal guardians to care for or take custody of them.
The letter comes as the number of children in the custody of ORR has reportedly surged in recent weeks due to the Trump Administration’s recently-implemented “zero tolerance” policy forcibly separating all minors, including very young children, from their family members. Amid the influx of children in ORR’s custody, new reports claim ORR is considering housing children in “tent cities” on military bases in Texas.
“I have serious questions about ORR’s ability to care for these children. In particular, I am extremely troubled by reports that ORR is considering housing them in ‘tent cities’ at military bases in Texas.” Pallone wrote to Azar. “These children are exceptionally vulnerable, and may suffer irreparable harm, in addition to the trauma they have already suffered, if they are not cared for properly.”
Reports indicate that HHS shelters are currently operating at 95 percent capacity, housing as many as 11,200 children – a sharp increase from 8,886 in April of this year – and it is unclear whether HHS has adequate staff and resources to provide necessities, such as routine medical and dental care, to all children in its custody.
Pallone is also particularly concerned about the welfare of the very young children in custody who have been separated from their parents and whether ORR shelters are equipped to care for their needs, the amount of time children are being held in Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) holding stations, and whether ORR is holding all children in “the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child,” as it is required by law to do.
Pallone is requesting a briefing from HHS for Committee staff no later than June 21, 2018 to explain how the Department is addressing the multitude of custody issues arising from ORR’s involvement in the matter, and a response to a series of questions by July 5, 2018, including:
- Did the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security consult with ORR or perform any analysis of ORR’s ability to absorb additional child migrants prior to implementation of the “zero-tolerance” policy? If so, please provide copies of this analysis.
- How does ORR track the minors in its care?
- Does ORR currently have sufficient supplies and employees or contractors available to care for the physical needs of all very young children in its custody?
- How does ORR track children released to sponsors to ensure that they may be reunited with their parents or guardians when those parents or guardians are released from custody?
- Has ORR delayed accepting children into its custody from CBP for any reason, including the availability of shelter beds or capacity? If so, how many children have been impacted?
- According to reports, a substantial number of children who were previously held in secure custody have been transferred to regular ORR shelters, but have not been released to sponsors because the current director of ORR, Scott Lloyd, has not personally cleared them for such release. Identify the number of children in this category, and explain the process by which Lloyd determines whether to children will be released. How many children are in this category?
The letter is available HERE.