E&C Republicans Raise Concerns with Proposed Rule that Weakens HHS Refugee Resettlement Vetting Process

Washington, D.C. — House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Subcommittee on Health Chair Brett Guthrie (R-KY), and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chair Morgan Griffith (R-VA), on behalf of the Health and Oversight Subcommittee Republicans, wrote to Biden administration officials who oversee the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement.

In the letter, the Chairs raise concerns about a recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would weaken the vetting process for children in the program as well as ORR’s poor stewardship of taxpayer dollars and potential conflicts of interested related to the ORR Director.  

In addition, the Chairs note that HHS has failed to respond to questions for the record from a hearing in July of 2023, despite several extensions given to the original deadline. 


“ORR’s inclusion of this provision [Sec. 410.1202 (c)] is particularly surprising considering continual bi-partisan Congressional interest in bolstering the sponsor vetting process. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra was repeatedly questioned on the thoroughness of the sponsor vetting process at a Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing last summer. The Secretary repeatedly assured the Subcommittee that ORR was conducting a ‘very thorough vetting process for any sponsor to make sure we understand who is asking for the opportunity to care for these children.' Making background checks and fingerprinting optional is inconsistent with the Secretary’s testimony to Congress.” 


“Numerous media and government oversight reports have clearly shown that the care provider facilities and sponsors do not always act in the best interest of the unaccompanied children. Many ORR influx care facility’s personnel have shown that they are frequently unqualified to care for vulnerable children. There have even been allegations of neglect and sexual misconduct by influx care facility staff with migrant children. Loosening vetting procedures for sponsors by eliminating background checks, fingerprints, and home visits, will put vulnerable unaccompanied children at a greater risk of being trafficked, exploited, or placed in unsafe settings.  

Whistleblowers have reported to Congress how HHS endangered the lives of unaccompanied migrant children by not properly vetting sponsors and not tracking children after they left ORR custody. Many children have ended up working in unsafe environments, such as roofing and meatpacking plants, after they were placed with an ORR approved sponsor. Some unaccompanied children have even died from injuries sustained while working at these sites. The Committee has received new allegations that ORR knowingly attempted to place a child with a convicted sex offender who was previously convicted of sexually abusing another child in his custody.” 


“ORR’s neglect of the unaccompanied children comes at a time when the agency has received unprecedented levels of funding. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF), ORR’s parent agency, has received $20 billion in the last two years—$8.9 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2022 and $10.9 billion in FY 2023—for refugee and entrant assistance, including more than $10 billion for the care of unaccompanied migrant children. ORR’s continued failure to care adequately for unaccompanied children in its custody, shows not only indifference to child welfare, but poor stewardship of taxpayer dollars. 

The Committee is also disturbed to learn of potential conflicts of interest stemming from Director Dunn Marcos’ prior role as Senior Director for Resettlement, Asylum, and Integration Programming at the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Recent reports indicate not only that the IRC has been the top beneficiary of refugee and entrant assistance discretionary grants since 2013, but also that the funding amounts allocated to the IRC in 2022 and 2023 have ballooned, with the organization receiving more than $235 million in spending in FY 2023 compared to $22 million in FY 2021—curiously, since Director Dunn Marcos took office.” 


  • Section 410.1202 (c) of the Proposed Rule states, "As part of its suitability assessment, ORR may also require such components as an investigation of the living conditions in which the unaccompanied child would be placed and the standard of care the unaccompanied child would receive, [. . .] a home visit or home study […], background and criminal records checks, which may include a fingerprint based background check, on the potential sponsor and on adult residents of the potential sponsor’s household."
  • Section 410.1210 (a)(3) does not require PRS for children with mental health needs, as the UC Program Foundational Rule now states “ORR may conduct PRS in additional cases involving unaccompanied children with mental health or other needs who could benefit from ongoing assistance from a community-based service provider,” based on available appropriations. 
  • Unaccompanied children often undergo extreme physical and mental trauma in their perilous journey to the U.S. and are in need of regular mental health and wellness checks by appropriate providers.  
  • Such services must be available for children manifesting obvious mental health symptoms. 
  • Section 410.1210 (a)(4) states “ORR shall not delay the release of an unaccompanied child if PRS are not immediately available.”  
  • By including this provision, ORR absolves itself of all responsibility that an unaccompanied migrant child will be properly taken care of after release in situations where the unaccompanied child clearly needs PRS. 
  • Section 410.1210 (e) provides that ongoing check-ins and in-home visits will be made “in consultation with the released unaccompanied child and sponsor,” and may be done “either in person or virtually.” 

CLICK HERE to read the full letter.