Congress Grills Administration Officials On Unaccompanied Minors

 A day after the president asked Congress for $3.7 billion dollars to deal with the surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the Mexico-U.S. border, a Senate committee criticized the administration for its lack of accountability and weak deportation numbers.

“I’m going to focus on who is accountable, who’s in charge, who is going to be held responsible before we spend $3.7 billion,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) during the July 9 Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing about unaccompanied minors. “There are a lot more questions that need to be answered before we move too far ahead.”

Before the nearly $4 billion is approved by Congress, “clear lines of accountability must be established with someone who reports directly to the president,” according to a statement released by Landrieu’s office soon after the hearing ended.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) grilled the administration as to why more child migrants weren’t deported. McCain said that in 2013, 20,808 children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were stopped while attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border; of those, only 1,069 were actually deported.

Johnson said the lack of deportation basically was “incentivizing parents to put their kids at great risk because once they get to the promise land they’re home free.”

According to Chairman Thomas R. Carper’s (D-Del.) opening statement, it is more costly for the U.S. to handle Central American children because they need to be flown back, which can take months or years, and need to be housed appropriately by HHS.

Roughly half of the emergency funds, $1.8 billion, will go to the Department of Health and Human Services to help care for and house the children crossing the Southwestern border and Rio Grande.

For more than a decade, border patrol has turned custody of unaccompanied minors over to HHS, which is then tasked with repatriating them or reunifying them with family in the United States.

The Congressional appropriation for HHS’ unaccompanied minors program jumped from $267 million in 2013 to $868 million in 2014. The number of unaccompanied minors caught by border patrols so far for 2014 has already more than doubled to 52,000.

Even with increased funding, the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has struggled to find organizations with bed space that are willing to temporarily take in unaccompanied children. ORR recently issued a $350 million funding notice for more providers, with a deadline of August 5.

The other half of the supplemental request would mostly go to the Department of Homeland Security ($1.4 billion) for costs related to border enforcement and detention of adults and families.

Click here to watch the hearing. The officials who testified on behalf of the Obama aminstration were FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Customs and Border Protections Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske and  Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas S. Winkowski.

Brian Rinker is a Journalism for Social Change Fellow and a recent graduate from San Francisco State University’s journalism program.

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Brian Rinker
About Brian Rinker 40 Articles
Brian is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley's School of Journalism and a freelance journalist.