Letter to Honorable Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services - Carter Leads 43 Members Demanding Answers from HHS About Unaccompanied Children at the Border


Dear Secretary Becerra,
We write to you with extreme concern regarding the increased numbers of
unaccompanied children (UC) that have been crossing the border and the care provided to them.
It has been widely reported that there is an ongoing crisis at our southern border with a
tremendous increase in the number of people crossing the border. In February alone, the U.S.
Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) recorded over 100,000 people attempting to enter the United
States, a figure that is nearly three times as large as the numbers this time last year. Raising more
concerns, nearly 9,000 UC/single minors crossed the border in February.1 While this was raised
as a concern under the previous Administration, the Biden Administration should be exploring
all possible options to address the ongoing crisis. For weeks, the White House has been
unwilling to acknowledge the crisis at the border, with White House press secretary Jen Psaki
recently placing blame on the Trump Administration.
2 Given the seriousness of this matter, we
are requesting a full briefing on the Administration's efforts to address the concerns regarding
the surge of UC at the border.
As Congressional Democrats focused on pushing through immigration bills that provided
a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants, facilities and personnel at the
southern border are struggling to manage and house the surge in people entering the United
States. These figures include thousands of UC who, after being apprehended by the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) immigration officials, are transferred to the care and
custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services (HHS).

In addition, many children have been in CBP facilities longer than the
maximum 72 hours allowed under federal law.4 To add to those concerns, the Federal
Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been brought in to help address the ongoing
concerns, indicating that this is in fact an emergency.
Despite efforts in recent years to increase ORR's permanent bed capacity for UC, as well
as efforts to keep influx facilities ready for surges like the one we are currently experiencing,
states along the southwestern border, CBP, and ORR have been overwhelmed with the surge in
people crossing the border. In addition, there are reports of reduced capacity due to COVID-19
occupancy limits at federal facilities and a lack of preparation in anticipating an increase.5 We
are concerned about the growing number of UC and the current crisis before us. In addition, the
border typically sees a surge in migration during the spring months, ahead of the hot summer
months, so past migration patterns suggest that the numbers will continue to increase in the
coming months. For this reason, we need more information on the efforts of HHS to manage and
address its capacity to care for these UC.
Congressional Republicans are focused on addressing this border crisis, but we need to
know more about how HHS is managing the current situation. That includes information on the
processes being used to transfer UC from CBP facilities to ORR facilities, current and future
capacity needs within ORR, and plans to address this surge while prioritizing the safety and wellbeing of these children. This situation needs to be acknowledged for what it is, a crisis, and we
need answers. We welcome a prompt and thorough response to these points and a full
Congressional briefing.