Press Release

Cuellar & Miller-Meeks Introduce Bill to Improve Care for Unaccompanied Children

Washington | Dana Youngentob, DC Press Secretary (202-340-9148), July 9, 2021

Washington, D.C.—Today, U.S. Representatives Henry Cuellar (TX-28) and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02) introduced the Responsibility for Unaccompanied Minors Act. This bicameral and bipartisan legislation clarifies the responsibilities of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide additional protections, keep better track, and care for unaccompanied alien children (UACs).

This legislation is the House companion to S. 772, which was introduced in March by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH)Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)James Lankford (R-OK), and Tom Carper (D-DE).

“As I have continuously said, there is a humanitarian crisis at our southern border. The children who have made this journey are alone and vulnerable—facing the threat of murder, kidnapping, rape, sexual slavery, and forced labor at the hands of violent criminal organizations. It is the responsibility of HHS to ensure that these children have protection from criminals and other potential violent actors, such as abusive parents and guardians,” said Congressman Henry Cuellar. “That is why I have supported legislation that provides monetary and personnel resources to border communities and federal agencies based at our southern border. We need more immigration judges and better facilities to ensure that we efficiently process children arriving in the United States seeking asylum in a human manner consistent with American ideals.”

“Our border patrol agents and law enforcement officers are struggling to deal with the current surge of UACs crossing our southern border. Holding facilities and immigration courts are overwhelmed, and the number of UACs crossing remains at crisis levels,” said Miller-Meeks.“Our bipartisan legislation would protect vulnerable children from traffickers and ensure that they appear for their court proceedings. We have to work to make sure that these children are safe, healthy, protected, and taken care of.”

To read the full text of the legislation, click HERE.

Background:

HHS denies that it has legal responsibility for UACs once they are placed with sponsors. If sponsors abuse the children or fail to ensure they show up for their immigration court proceedings, HHS denies that it has authority to remove the children from those sponsors’ care and relies entirely on state and local welfare agencies to respond to reports of problems. The Responsibility for Unaccompanied Minors Act clarifies that HHS has ongoing authority to care for UACs until the child’s immigration proceedings conclude. It mandates that HHS must do background checks on all potential sponsors and other adults in the household. If a sponsor neglects a UAC or fails to ensure the child appears at his immigration proceedings, HHS does not rescind the sponsorship agreement automatically. This legislation requires HHS to terminate sponsorship and reassume physical custody of the UAC if a non-parental sponsor fails to comply with his sponsorship agreement. It also requires sponsors to accept post-release services when offered by HHS.

Additionally, HHS does not currently notify states or localities when it places UACs with sponsors in a state. This bill would require HHS to notify state welfare agencies before it releases UACs to sponsors within a state. Notification will help states better prepare for UACs living in their states and help legal service providers gain better access to UACs. Finally, with a nearly 1.3 million case backlog in U.S. immigration courts, 103,872 of which are UAC cases, this legislation provides 225 additional immigration judge teams to help reduce the backlog.

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