“Please do better,” Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., told a Biden administration official responsible for caring for children who cross unaccompanied and unlawfully into the United States.   

“I have always promised to hold the powerful to account, regardless of political party,” Porter said during a Tuesday hearing, speaking to Robin Dunn Marcos, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement under the Department of Health and Human Services.  

The hearing by the House Oversight and Accountability Committee’s subcommittee on national security, the border, and foreign affairs focused on reports of a high number of illegal immigrants who are abandoned, unaccompanied children.

Although Porter criticized “corporate America” for “putting children in danger to boost their profits,” she also called on the Biden administration to address the abuse of migrant children and ensure greater safety for them. 

About a dozen lawmakers questioned Marcos during the hearing, called “Oversight of the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Unaccompanied Alien Children Program.” Several raised concerns that the government agency had lost track of unaccompanied migrant children who crossed the border into the U.S.  

Unaccompanied migrant children remain in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement until they are placed with a parent or sponsor, but the agency “does not monitor or track the whereabouts of children after they are released from our care,” Marcos told subcommittee members.

In February, The New York Times reported that even though HHS “checks on all minors by calling them a month after they begin living with their sponsors,” data obtained by the newspaper “showed that over the last two years, the agency could not reach more than 85,000 children.”

“Overall, the agency lost immediate contact with a third of migrant children,” the Times reported.

Subcommittee Chairman Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., questioned Marcos on whether that reporting was accurate. 

“Could the 85,000 number be right that The New York Times has? We don’t know where 85,000 unaccompanied minors wound up?” Grothman asked.  

“We do not track or monitor … ,” Marcos began to respond.  

“The answer is no,” Grothman interjected. “There are 85,000 kids who came across the border, we don’t know [where they are]. Is that right? Apparently, it is.”  

“[The Office of Refugee Resettlement] works within the statutes and authorities and resources provided,” Marcos said.  

“OK, well, we’ll take that to mean we don’t know where they are,” the Wisconsin Republican said. 

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., also pressed Marcos on the Department of Health and Human Services’ knowledge of the whereabouts of tens of thousands of migrant children.  

“I think you’re telling us that you don’t disagree with the 85,000 number of children that we lost contact with,” Biggs told Marcos, adding: “I’m not saying you lost them, I’m saying we lost contact with them. We don’t know where those kids are, is that fair to say?”  

“We attempt to make a safety and well-being call … ,” Marcos began to answer before Biggs interjected again to ask whether she could confirm that the agency doesn’t know the whereabouts of 85,000 children.

Marcos appeared unable or unwilling to answer the question directly.  

HHS requires sponsors to fill out paperwork and go through a vetting process before an unaccompanied minor is placed in their care. But Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., questioned the validity of the department’s vetting process, calling the forms used “inadequate.” 

“Congressman, I respectfully do not believe that our current vetting is inadequate,” Marcos replied.

But Gosar again disagreed, calling the forms “a joke” and “written in a way that almost seems as if you’re trying not to learn about or track the lack of fitness of these sponsors.”  

“Now, in theory, if [the Office of Refugee Resettlement] is doing the job and actually vetting sponsors, it will have a statistically significant rejection rate,” Gosar said,.

The Arizona Republican then asked Marcos what the rejection rate is for her office’s sponsor application. 

“Congressman, I’m not sure what our rejection rate is,” Marcos answered.  

Gosar rebuked Marcos for her lack of knowledge on the subject.  

“You knew you were coming into this hearing,” Gosar said. “You knew these numbers were going to be asked. This is inappropriate behavior of somebody of your caliber,” he said, adding, “If you can’t have these numbers, you can’t make good policy.”  

Marcos didn’t appear to attempt to respond to the congressman’s criticisms.  

The ongoing crisis at America’s southern border has “endangered the well-being of unaccompanied migrant children,” Rep. Jake LaTurner, R-Kan., said. 

Since fiscal year 2023 began Oct. 1, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has encountered more than 1.2 million illegal aliens at the southern border. CBP also has seized 13,800 pounds of fentanyl at the southern border in the same time frame. 

The increased number of illegal aliens crossing the border has resulted in an increase in the number of illegal migrant children and the result, LaTurner said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has urged his department to “process [these children] out of this program at assembly-line speed,” LaTurner said, “resulting in at-risk children being released to sponsors without proper vetting, exploited for illegal child labor, and put at risk for human trafficking.” 

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