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Senator Lankford Questions Administration Officials on Protecting Unaccompanied Immigrant Children

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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today questioned officials from the Administration during a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing entitled “Oversight of Efforts to Protect Unaccompanied Alien Children from Human Trafficking and Abuse.” Lankford’s questions focused on the need for the administration to ensure the care and safety of Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) in placements, including the ability to know where the children are located.  Lankford also addressed the problem of placing UACs with adults that are illegally present in the United States, which can exacerbate the problem of UACs failing to appear in court.

Today’s hearing is the third since 2015 on the need to protect unaccompanied children. In conjunction with the hearing, the Subcommittee also released a new report that shows a lack of progress from key agencies charged with protecting these children. 

Lankford continues to work on solutions to reform the country’s current immigration system. In February, Lankford introduced the Secure and Succeed Act, which would provide an opportunity for approximately 1.8 million DACA or DACA-eligible immigrants to earn citizenship while strengthening US border security and enforcement measures to reduce illegal immigration, and he has also been vocal on the need to keep families together at the southern border. Lankford lead a bipartisan group of Senators in a letter to President Trump to urge the default position of the US to keep families together at the border and to work with faith communities on its efforts to reunify families that have been separated this year.

Excerpts:

Lankford (0:09-0:32): Let me start with a very basic question. Who is setting the standard for the placement for where the children are going. And, let me give you some basic criteria here. Do they [sponsors] have to be legal citizens of the United States when we actually do a placement; do they have to have a background check; do they have to be an immediate relative? Who sets that standard?

Commander Jonathan D. White (0:35-0:48): Senator, that standard is set primarily by statue and then by the policies and procedures of ORR, which are published online and available. The manual covers the process for vetting of sponsors and release.

Lankford (0:50-0:56): …let me back up, do they have to be a legal resident of the United States to receive one of the UACs in their home?

Commander White (0:56-0:57): No, sir.

Lankford (0:58-1:00): Is that something done by statue or ORR?

Commander White (1:03-1:12): I believe that’s based on an understanding of statue and it directs us regarding the prioritization of sponsors.

Lankford (1:13-1:19): So, you are saying, to require that individuals are placed into a legal resident of the United States would require legislative action and wouldn’t be an ORR decision. 

Commander White (1:20-1:23): I’d have to refer that to general counsel, but that’s generally my personal understanding.

Lankford (8:51-10:08): I want to be able to follow up on one key are. It seems to be the elephant in the room in this conversation. Where having a difficult time tracking children and their location after they are placed but we are most often placing them in homes with people that have been illegally present here in the United States sometimes for years. Those are individuals by definition have lived under the radar and separated from the rest of society on it. I’m trying to figure this out. So, it seems that we are set up for failure from the start if we are placing individuals into a home with a sponsor that is illegally present in the United States. So, my question on this is trying to have a dialogue. Have we set you up for failure on this based on how it is set up and designed? Of course, children are going to disappear and we are going to lose track of them if they are in a home of individuals, or in a group of people, or with their family if that family by definition is trying to disappear within society as well and have often done it for a long time. Unless I’m getting this wrong from the stats I’ve seen in the past, most of the UACs that are coming are coming a joining a family member already here. Is that correct?

Commander White (10:13-10:20): That is correct for the great majority of UACs who are discharged to a sponsor out of ORR care.  

Lankford (10:21-10:33): So, let me ask a simple question. If the requirement was that we do not place a UAC with a sponsor that is not a legal citizen of the United States, what does that change? 

Commander White (10:37-10:48): Well, for one thing, it would create a requirement for hundreds of thousands of beds over the next couple of years.

Lankford (10:48-10:11:18): Do you think the same number is coming, or do you think those UACs are coming because dad or uncle is already here in the United States. And someone is saying to a 14-year-old boy in Guatemala it’s time to go to the United States and go work with your uncle or go with your dad. So, we’re going to pay for a trafficker for you to get there, you’re going to get there, you’re going to get checked-in, and get checked-in and find him. If that’s not an opportunity that they have to be able to be placed with a sponsor of an uncle or a dad that’s already here that they know that’s not an opportunity. Do you think the numbers change? Or do you think the numbers just stay consistent?

Commander White (11:17-11:52): I wouldn’t speculate on how long it would take to change or what the change would be. I’m simply saying that the vast majority of releases…are to sponsors without legal status, and we are at 90 percent bed capacity today with the process we have now and a record number of beds and two temporary influx-shelters set up. So, you ask me what the consequences would be of such policy, Senator, and the most immediate consequence would be that it would back up border stations and produce a humanitarian crisis.  

Lankford (11:53-12:25): Right, you’re out of bed space. But, the alternative is what this committee is complaining about is releasing people into the country and we lose track of them because we are setting you up for failure because you’re putting them with sponsors that we don’t have track of already. That are already living in the shadows here in the country. So, it seems to be this really odd side-by-side that you’re getting griped at for losing track of people that by definition that the adult that they are with we have already lost track with. So, what I’m trying to figure out is how to solve this long-term and what are the key solutions to this.  

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