Republican lawmakers and at least one state attorney general are calling for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to withdraw a rule they fear weakens vetting for sponsors of unaccompanied migrant children and would roll back protections for whistleblowers.

Thirty-eight Senate Republicans led by Sen. Chuck Grassley want the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to withdraw the Unaccompanied Children Program Foundational Rule, which was unveiled in September and purportedly codifies a framework for the care of child migrants who arrive at the border alone. They say it includes provisions that are “alarming, dangerous and potentially illegal.”

“This Proposed Rule ignores nearly seven years of oversight conducted by Congress and the Office of Inspector General and reveals chronic foot-dragging — if not total reluctance — when it comes to protecting vulnerable children,” they say in a letter to the agency.

UACs are transferred from Border Patrol custody to the care of HHS, who then move to unite the migrant with an adult sponsor, often a relative. However, the agency’s handling of the surge in UACs came under scrutiny this year after reports of children being trafficked into the labor force and the agency being unable to contact sponsors after giving them care of a minor.


HHS says the rule would “establish a comprehensive framework setting clear standards for the care and treatment of unaccompanied children in ORR’s custody.” It includes standards of placement and the release of children, operations, transport and monitoring.

It also includes provisions for expanded legal services, post-release services, due process protections and the establishment of an office to handle concerns about government actions.

“HHS is committed to the well-being and safety of unaccompanied children in our care,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement in September. “This proposed rule takes significant steps to ensure that these vulnerable children are protected and supported as they transition into new communities.” 


Specifically, they argue that the rule would mean that vetting for sponsors is optional, including interviews, home visits, background checks and criminal history reviews.

“In effect, ORR accepts a sponsor’s representations almost entirely on face value. ORR then delivers the child at taxpayer expense and free-of-cost to the un-vetted sponsor, opening up the possibility that a vulnerable child could fall into the hands of a potentially criminal or drug-addicted sponsor,” they say in the letter.

They also criticize the rule for not ensuring any sponsor is in the country legally and for requiring whistleblowers to identify themselves to the agency before going to Congress.

The lawmakers say that if the rule is not withdrawn, they will introduce a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act, which could potentially kill the rule if it gains enough support in the upper chamber.

“ORR’s Proposed Rule abdicates the agency’s responsibility for protecting the vulnerable children in its custody from harmful behavior by poorly vetted, potential criminals,” the letter states. “The Proposed Rule is wholly unworkable and ORR should discard it and its current practices. If not, Congress will have no choice but to introduce a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act.”

Meanwhile, in Florida, Attorney General Ashley Moody submitted a comment saying that a state grand jury that has been investigating the child migrant crisis was “horrified” by the proposals.

“It is an absolute travesty that tens of thousands of children are suffering due to the Biden administration’s terrible immigration policies — both that mass number of inadmissible immigrants are incentivized to enter the country illegally and that these unaccompanied alien children are subject to sexual abuse, human trafficking and other terrors at the hands of drug cartels,” Moody said in a statement. 

“And now, the administration is even seeking to WEAKEN their vetting policies for UAC sponsors. With the new discoveries by the statewide grand jury, we are fighting back and demanding ORR strengthen, not weaken, the vetting process for sponsors entrusted to care for these children.”