Senators call on agency to immediately implement policies to protect children

Move follows troubling reports of migrant children being held for extended periods of time in unlicensed facilities with dire conditions

Following disturbing reports from federal oversight agencies and the media of children being held for extended periods of time in unlicensed facilities, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) called on the Office of Refugee Resettlement to immediately reevaluate and reform its policies concerning migrant children in its care.

The Senators called out ORR for being in direct violation of the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement (Flores), which established that children must be released to sponsors or transferred to licensed facilities as quickly as possible.

Despite receiving the nearly $3 billion in full funding it recently requested, ORR is still in violation of Flores, failing to address the humanitarian needs of children and keeping them detained in unlicensed facilities that do not have properly vetted staff and are not adequately equipped to provide care.

 “We cannot compromise on the safety and wellbeing of children facing extended lengths of stay in government custody, and already we’ve seen far too many examples of abuse. ORR needs to immediately implement policies that ensure facilities comply with state vetting and training requirements for staff, no matter how quickly the facility needs to be operationalized,” the Senators wrote. “…ORR should be prioritizing reunification of every child as soon as possible, but instead it has been responsible for policies that are forcing longer stays in government custody for children. You now have the funding you said you needed, and your office must ensure that the custody and processing of UACs is meeting the minimum standards required by domestic and international law.”

Last month, Gillibrand called on Senate Appropriators to restrict funding for facilities that do not meet minimum standards of care to protect migrant children. Gillibrand also called for appropriators to restrict any funding that may be used to implement the Memorandum of Agreement between Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol and ORR, in which information obtained from children, such as citizenship status of potential sponsors, is shared between these agencies. This would help reduce the manufactured over-capacity problem that the Trump Administration cites as the need for unlicensed facilities.

A copy of the letter may be found here.

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