FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FEBRUARY 8, 2016
Contact: Sarah Feldman – 202-228-6263
McCaskill: Department of Health and Human Services ‘continuing to fail vulnerable kids’ by Claiming Lack of Authority to Monitor Unaccompanied Children
Federal agency fails to meet Senator’s one-week deadline to provide documentation that it lacks legal authority to monitor placements after Senate hearing shines spotlight on failures to safeguard unaccompanied minors awaiting immigration hearings
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill today blasted the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for failing to provide the legal documentation she asked to receive within one week of a bipartisan Senate hearing. At the hearing, McCaskill repeatedly pressed agency officials on their contention that they lack legal responsibility to track and monitor unaccompanied immigrant children once those children are placed with a sponsor, and demanded those officials deliver to her within one week any evidence to support their claim.
“The federal government’s inability to protect these kids—most of whom are escaping unimaginable violence—is not only a failure of our moral obligation to protect the most vulnerable, it is also a failure of our basic legal obligation,” said McCaskill, a former prosecutor. “Fortunately, I believe the agency can right some of these wrongs by monitoring these children after they’re placed in sponsor homes. But the agency has refused to do so, claiming it lacks the legal authority with no justification for that claim. I am shocked, frankly, and I expect an answer immediately.”
At the hearing, McCaskill told the story of a 16-year old who, while awaiting an immigration hearing, was placed with an individual claiming to be the minor’s cousin: “In fact, he was completely unrelated to her and had paid for her to come to the U.S. as a sort of mail-order bride. The minor, who had endured a sexual assault in her home country, was forced to have sex with her sponsor. In another case, a 17-year old was released to an unrelated ‘family friend’ who reported living with three additional unrelated adult men. [The Department of Health and Human Services] released this teen to the sponsor without conducting background checks on any of the unrelated adult men with whom he would be living, without conducting a home study of his sponsor’s home, and without providing him with post-release services… similar examples fill the case files reviewed by the Subcommittee… vulnerable and traumatized minors abused by their sponsors, or forced to engage in backbreaking labor for little or no pay, while being housed in unsanitary and dangerous conditions.”
The Senate hearing was the result of a six-month investigation into the federal government’s policies and procedures for placing unaccompanied alien children with adult sponsors by McCaskill and Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio—the top-ranking members of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
Click HERE to read the full bipartisan report resulting from McCaskill and Portman’s investigation. Among the Subcommittee’s findings:
- The Department of Health and Human Services’ process for verifying the alleged relationship between an unaccompanied minor and an individual other than a parent, guardian, or close family member is unreliable and vulnerable to abuse.
- The agency cannot sufficiently detect when a sponsor or group of related sponsors is seeking custody of multiple unrelated children.
- The agency has failed to conduct adequate background checks.
- The agency does not adequately conduct home studies.
- After a child’s release to a sponsor, the agency allows sponsors to refuse post-release services offered to the child—and even to bar contact between the child and an HHS care provider attempting to provide those services.
- Many unaccompanied minors fail to appear at immigration proceedings.
Visit mccaskill.senate.gov/accountability to learn more about McCaskill’s fight to strengthen accountability in Washington.