On April 18, 2023, the Committee on Oversight and Accountability held a hearing concerning the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s (ORR) unaccompanied children program. The witness, director of the ORR, Ms. Robin Dunn-Marcos defended the current system used to care for unaccompanied migrant children. However, congressmen from both sides of the aisle raised concerns and were critical of the vetting process and post release services the ORR offers.
While there was consensus that the current system of care must be reformed, several arguments from both parties were highly polarized. Consistently, Dunn-Marcos was questioned about the 85,000 migrant children that were reported missing after receiving ORR care, and wanted to know what the ORR does to protect children after they are discharged. However, Dunn-Marcos made it clear that the ORR relinquishes all custodial authority once the child has been placed with a sponsor. She argued that these 85,000 children are not “lost”, but rather beyond the responsibility of the ORR to monitor or track children after discharge. Additionally, sponsors are not legally required to report back to the ORR about the whereabouts or situation of the placed child. The lack of knowledge beyond the walls of ORR care concerned all members of the committee, and Dunn-Marcos advocated for more funding to continue to expand post release and legal services.
Many concerns were raised about the vetting process for sponsors of unaccompanied children, specifically citing the ORR’s move to remove the proof of address requirement for sponsors, as well as the exemption of a submitted background check for all other household members. While this helps mitigate the amount of time children have to wait to receive ideal care, members of the committee were concerned that this only increases unsafe sponsorship placements; they stressed the importance of prioritizing children over speed. Concerns over child labor, sex trafficking, abuse, whistle-blower worker violations and more were repeatedly mentioned. Dunn-Marcos indicated that the ORR is currently strengthening their relationship with the Department of Labor to help reduce the rising rates of child labor.
However, she made it clear that the ORR is not a law enforcement agency and does not have the power to remove a child from an unsafe placement. Dunn-Marcos also referred to the available hotlines and education given to both children and sponsors, as well as temporarily blocking placements to certain zip codes, additional supervisory reviews, and more home visits to respond to concerns. Yet, several congressmen noted that we need to invest more into the system to help these unaccompanied children and bring innovative solutions to the table.
By Olivia LaMarco, Policy Intern