With a second wave of unaccompanied minors illegally entering the U.S., Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is pressing the Obama administration on its level of care for the children and preparations.
Last year the southern border experienced an unprecedented influx of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) illegally entering the U.S. from Central America, straining government resources and capabilities.
“Last year the nation witnessed a humanitarian crisis at the border that was a direct consequence of President Obama’s illegal and unconstitutional amnesty,” Cruz, a 2016 presidential candidate, said. “We know that violent criminals, drug cartels, and sex traffickers are bringing minors across the border, and are putting little boys and little girls in grave danger.”
This fiscal year to date, though not as large as last year’s wave at the same time, more than 12,500 UACs have been apprehended illegally entering the U.S. across the southern border. Such UACs are placed in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.
“New information, however, suggests an ongoing failure to investigate serious allegations relating to the care of children, including and not limited to, sexual abuse, poor screening processes that have allowed non-minors and gang members to be processed as innocent minors, and inadequate post-release monitoring of minors,” Cruz —the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts — said, explaining he is pressing HHS for answers.
In a letter to HHS Sec. Sylvia Burwell, Cruz highlights a number of issues and calls on the Department to provide information about its procedures.
“I have been alerted to a number of specific problems regarding the manner in which the Department has handled, or mishandled, the UAC influx, including the potential failure to screen entrants for factors that might render them ineligible for entry into the United States, as well as potential, significant failures to properly care for and monitor the innocent children who have come into your custody,” Cruz writes in a letter to Burwell this week.
In his missive, Cruz points to four specific areas of concern. First on his list of issues is what he says is the department’s “Failure to Address Sexual Abuse and Other Incident Reports Involving Alien Minors.”
“I understand that some UAC have reported abuse that had occurred at different stages of their journeys, including while en route to the United States,” Cruz writes. “Some incidents of abuse, however, may have occurred while minors were in federal custody or in the custody of Department-selected contractors. In both instances, information exists that indicates the Department has been and is aware of these incidents but has chosen not to address them, or to not address them in any meaningful way.”
Also at issue for Cruz is the screening of those minors in HHS’ custody wherein, he charges there are incidents of people who are not minors and those with criminal records and/or gang affiliations being processed by HHS as “innocent minors.”
“I have also received information raising questions about the degree to which the Department is accurately determining whether people who are entering the United States as parent-child family units are in fact family units, or even related,” he adds.
Cruz continued, saying another issue is a lack of sufficient follow up once HHS has placed the minors with sponsors in the U.S.
“I have also been told that, pursuant to Department policy and with a few minor exceptions, the Department conducts little or no post-release monitoring of UAC, which raises many questions about the safety and security of minors that have been and will be released from your care. More information is needed to determine the adequacy of the Department’s placement and post-release monitoring policies and procedure,” the Texas lawmaker writes.
Finally, Cruz expresses concern that there has not been enough coordination with state and local government about the UACs placed in their states. Cruz referenced a letter from the GOP members of the Tennessee delegation last summer about the government’s failure to alert their state of the 760 UACs released to sponsors in Tennessee.
“It is reasonable to believe that this communication failure may not be limited to one state, and may also be part of a conscious strategy to keep state and local officials in the dark about these alien minor placements,” the letter reads. “To address the Department’s failures and help state and local officials better serve their citizens, more information is needed to help determine if or how the Department is working with state and local governments to help them prepare for these placements.”
Cruz requests that HHS provide his committee with a number of documents related to his concerns within two weeks.