Republicans Criticize Vetting of Migrants as Families Reunite

  • Criminal background checks waived for household members
  • HHS terminates information sharing with ICE

House Republicans criticized the Biden administration over its new policies aiming to quickly unify child migrants with families amid a surge of unaccompanied children at the border.

The Biden administration’s policies to address the flow of child migrants arriving without parents has pivoted from the Trump administration’s, which tried to deter the practice by slowing down the placement of those children with relatives or sponsors in the U.S. Republican lawmakers are now pushing back on two of President Joe Biden’s policies, stating they leave unaccompanied children at risk of being placed with criminals. Democrats have argued the Biden policies are more humane.

“Are these people properly vetted?” Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) asked a Biden administration official at a House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing Wednesday. “Can you certify that no children have been placed with anyone affiliated with a gang or any other criminal organization?”

Photographer: Ringo Chiu/AFP via Getty Images
A girl looks on as migrants from Guatemala remove their shoelaces as they are initially processed after turning themselves over to authorities at the US-Mexico border May 12, 2021 in Yuma, Ariz.

The arguments spotlighted the ongoing partisan battle over how to safely care for the large number of unaccompanied children in U.S. custody—without encouraging others to make the dangerous journey across the border.

The Biden administration announced earlier this year that it would waive criminal background checks for occupants who live in a sponsor’s household in order to expedite the vetting process and reduce the amount of time a child spends in a government facility after crossing the border.

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The Health and Human Services Department, which oversees the Administration for Children and Families and its Office of Refugee Resettlement, also terminated its 2018 agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to share information about sponsors with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Opponents of that Trump-era agreement say that it discouraged families from coming forward for fear of getting deported, and resulted in children spending more time in custody.

JooYeun Chang, acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, testified to the panel that the new policies were effective in quickly and safely placing children with relatives. The refugee office is working to find homes for about 17,000 children in shelters—a decrease from more than 23,000 at the end of April.

“I want to stress that this expedited process does not eliminate background checks for the parent or legal guardians,” Chang said. “The expedited process streamlines vetting procedures in order to avoid unnecessarily prolonging the time children remain in the government’s custody.”

Still, ranking member Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) scrutinized the policy and argued that the refugee office “relies primarily on widely available internet search engines” to vet household members.

Subcommittee Chair Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) praised the Biden administration’s approach, saying it “has made significant progress in responding humanely to the enormous challenge before it.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Sadek in Washington at nsadek@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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