HHS Proposes to Codify Rules for UAC Care into Regulation

CIS submitted a comment explaining that the agency must strengthen its rules to protect UACs and discourage child smuggling

By Elizabeth Jacobs on December 8, 2023

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) submitted a public comment on December 4, 2023, to strengthen the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS)’s proposal to codify rules governing the care and placement of unaccompanied alien children (UACs). The proposal is titled “Unaccompanied Children Program Foundational Rule”.

CIS recommended that HHS amend or withdraw the proposal to provide stronger protections to UACs while discouraging the smuggling of minors into the United States. CIS believes that this proposal codifies many of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)’s existing, misguided policies that have allowed the agency to lose track of thousands of UACs that ORR has placed with sponsors.

Most concerning, the proposal includes provisions that allow ORR to waive procedures that are essential to ensuring the welfare of UACs. This proposal does little to prevent the placement of UACs with strangers, including criminals and traffickers, or discourage the smuggling of UACs into the United States.

Accordingly, CIS recommended that HHS, instead, issue a rulemaking that:

  • Requires use of DNA tests to confirm familial relationships between UACs and sponsors, when one is claimed;
  • Requires stronger, mandatory vetting procedures for sponsors and UACs alike;
  • Prohibits sponsors from taking custody of multiple UACs who do not have a familial relationship to the sponsor;
  • Prioritizes the reunion of UACs with their families in their home countries;
  • Requires any facility that houses UACs to be licensed in the state or locality it is located in; and
  • Facilitates sharing of information between federal government agencies and with state and local law enforcement agencies.

Additionally, CIS urged HHS to rescind a provision that provides unauthorized funding for legal representation to UACs. Finally, CIS told HHS that it must work with Congress to repeal the provisions in the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 that have incited the UAC crisis.