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Senate Dems block effort to reform program accused of facilitating abuse of migrant children

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U.S. Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, have blocked another effort to reform or end a program after multiple allegations were made that it’s enabling the abuse of unaccompanied minors (UACs) brought into the country illegally.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, led a group of 44 senators to introduce a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to strike down a rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Office of the Administration for Children & Families governing its Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) oversight and care of UACs.

Federal law requires the ORR to provide UACs with food, shelter, and medical care and release them “to safe settings with sponsors (usually family members), while they await immigration proceedings.”

Under the Biden administration, allegations of sexual abuse of UACs in HHS/ORR-contracted facilities have increased. Several investigative reports identified more than 100,000 children ORR can’t account for within a certain timeframe, meaning the number is potentially higher.

The CRA went nowhere after no Senate Democrats supported it. Only former Democrat-turned Independent, Sen. Joe Manchin from West Virginia, joined Republicans.

The resolution states, “Congress disapproves the final rule submitted by the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the Administration for Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services relating to ‘Unaccompanied Children Program Foundational Rule’’ (89 Fed. Reg. 34384 (April 8 30, 2024)), seeking to replace regulations relating to the key aspects of the placement, care, and services provided to unaccompanied alien children, and such proposed rule shall have no force or effect.”

The CRA is a tool Congress can use to overturn certain federal agency actions. If a CRA joint resolution of disapproval is approved by both the House and Senate and is signed by the president, or if Congress successfully overrides a presidential veto, the federal rule can’t go into effect or continue in effect, the Congressional Research Service explains.

Despite receiving no support from Senate Democrats, Grassley’s coalition saw introducing the CRA as a way to again express their opposition to the ORR program.

This is after Grassley recently referred to federal law enforcement potential evidence of suspected child trafficking and smuggling through the ORR program and raised concerns about HHS officials reportedly retaliating against potential whistleblowers.

Grassley also called on the Office of Special Counsel to investigate HHS’s deficient whistleblower protections.

“The Biden administration ignored warnings from Congress and the Inspector General that its policies put children at risk and instead moved to finalize its current rule,” Grassley said. “Biden’s Health and Human Services Department has lost tens of thousands of vulnerable kids and handed over many others to abusers and criminals. This exploitation is one of the most heartbreaking tragedies the Biden Border Crisis has created. Since the Biden administration has refused to lift a finger to fix this problem, it’s now up to Congress to put a stop to it.”

The coalition introduced the CRA after Grassley led a group of 38 Republicans last December calling on HHS to drop its proposed rule change, arguing it would only codify failed policies that enable the abuse of children, The Center Square reported.

HHS states the rule change is “consistent with its statutory duties, for the benefit of unaccompanied children and to enhance public transparency as to the policies governing the operation of the UC Program.”

But it does the exact opposite, the senators argue, including placing UACs with “unvetted, potentially criminal sponsors.” It also codifies refusing to consider a sponsor’s criminal record, including illegal drug use, history of abuse or neglect, or other disqualifying child welfare concerns, and refusing to share the sponsor’s immigration status with law enforcement. It also prevents whistleblowers from reporting abuses in the program to Congress, in violation of federal law protecting whistleblowers, among other issues.

In February, Grassley contacted 15 HHS contractors and grantees about whistleblower disclosures he received alleging widespread mismanagement of the UAC program. The Biden administration has so far ignored his and others’ concerns and the rule change went into effect in April.

In May, Grassley next launched a “sweeping review of potential abuse” of UACs, The Center Square reported.

With the border as a primary concern among voters, some Senate Democrats have distanced themselves from Biden administration policies, The Center Square reported. The same Democrats have not signed on to measures to advance efforts to protect children from being sexually abused, smuggled or trafficked, Grassley and others note.

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