(CNSNews.com) – Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) sent a letter earlier this week to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell seeking answers about the vetting process used for the adult “sponsors” who are given custody of unaccompanied minor children (UACs) who entered the country illegally and without a family member.
The letter was sent ahead of a hearing scheduled for next week to question Obama administration officials about the screening process for sponsors following a whistleblower’s claim last year that of a sample of 29,000 sponsors, 3,400 had criminal histories, including domestic violence, homicide, child molestation, sexual assault and human trafficking.
In January, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a reporton problems with the HHS vetting system after a criminal investigation revealed that multiple children had been handed over to human traffickers in Ohio where they were forced to work on an egg farm.
“We must ensure that there are no gaps in the process which would put the most vulnerable at risk of abuse, neglect, exploitation, or harm,” the senators wrote in the letter.
The press release sent out with the letter stated that from fiscal year 2009 through 2014, more than 200,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended at the U.S. border with Mexico.
Grassley and Cornyn sent an earlier letter in November 2015 seeking clarification on the vetting process for sponsors following the revelation by a whistleblower about children being released to individuals with criminal histories.
However, the response from the two agencies in January did not satisfy the senators, and the letter sent this week includes a long list of follow-up questions, including:
• What specific criminal offenses would disqualify someone from being a sponsor?
• What protocol is in place to prevent document fraud, such as birth certificates?
• What protocol is in place when HHS – or the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is the arm of the agency responsible for the placement of UACs -- conducts a Safety and Well Being Follow Up Call 30 days after a child/children’s release to a sponsor if the sponsor or child cannot be located?
• Does ORR screen UACs or sponsors for gang affiliation before placement?
The letter asks for HHS and DHS to respond by March 2.
The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday focused on the Obama administration’s placement of unaccompanied minors who have entered the country illegally.