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DeLauro Urges the Biden Administration to Redesign the Unaccompanied Children Program and Limit Use of Influx Facilities

February 10, 2021
Press Release

DeLauro in a letter to President Biden and Secretary-designate Becerra: “While I understand the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted licensed shelter capacity, we need to start thinking differently when it comes the Unaccompanied Children program.”

WASHINGTON, DC – House Appropriations Committee Chair and Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Rosa DeLauro (CT-03) sent a letter to President Biden and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary-designate Becerra on the announcement that the influx facility at Carrizo Springs, Texas, will be opening soon to address the increased number of children entering the United States.

In her letter, DeLauro wrote, “I have long fought to end the use of influx facilities given the previous Administration’s decision to use them to warehouse children, skirting state and federal standards of care. While I understand the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted licensed shelter capacity, we need to start thinking differently when it comes to the Unaccompanied Children program.”

With the opening of an additional influx facility for Unaccompanied Children, DeLauro urged the Biden Administration to avoid placing children unnecessarily in the Unaccompanied Children program and to explore other avenues for placing children in shelters before expanding an influx shelter. Additionally, DeLauro called on HHS to ensure children are not separated from family members and that influx shelters meet the health, safety, and wellbeing standards set forth in the Flores Settlement Agreement, as well as public health guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of requirements for potential influx shelters…,” DeLauro continued. “I stand ready to work with you to create a system that safely discharges children as quickly as possible, diverts children from the Unaccompanied Children program when they can be, and ends the use of influx facilities for good.” 

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear President Biden and Secretary-designate Becerra,

I write with serious concern about the state of the Unaccompanied Children program, and the announcement that the influx facility at Carrizo Springs, Texas will be opening soon to address the increased number of children entering the United States. I have long fought to end the use of influx facilities given the previous Administration’s decision to use them to warehouse children, skirting state and federal standards of care. While I understand the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted licensed shelter capacity, we need to start thinking differently when it comes to the Unaccompanied Children program. 

Below are recommendations to ensure any influx facilities are as safe as possible for children, improve the discharge rate to sponsors, and avoid placing children unnecessarily in the Unaccompanied Children program. HHS should:

  • Explore all other avenues for placing children in state‑licensed shelters before opening or expanding an influx shelter. This should include shelters not located at the border where there may be additional capacity and children could be transported on a chartered flight if those children have been grouped into the same categories regarding COVID-19 exposure/risk.
  • Implement all operational directives and policies that will place children with sponsors as quickly as possible (while maintaining necessary safeguards for their protection), including authorizing overtime for caseworkers, federal field specialists, and other staff to expedite the placement of children with sponsors.
  • Examine the feasibility of paying for flights from the shelter the child has completed quarantine to their sponsors, should their case be processed within 14 days to expedite discharge and avoid moving them to another shelter.
  • Coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security to implement border policies that ensure children are not separated from family members such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, or adult siblings and then transferred to HHS custody.
  • Ensure that influx shelters meet all standards set forth in Exhibit 1 of the Flores Settlement Agreement. 
  • Ensure that influx shelters meet all comparable local State licensing requirements—including exploring all legal avenues for State-licensing of influx shelters, even if they would be temporary licenses.
  • Ensure that influx shelters meet CDC guidelines for shared or congregate housing.
  • Expedite COVID vaccination for staff at influx shelters, staff transporting children, and all staff at ORR state-licensed facilities.
  • Allow unscheduled visits by HHS’s Office of Inspector General to any influx shelter during which HHS OIG can speak with children confidentially.
  • Ensure all staff at influx shelters have undergone an FBI background check before they are permitted to begin work.
  • Have on-site pediatric health specialists, including pediatricians, nurse practitioners, and physicians’ assistants, and child and adolescent mental health clinicians, at all influx shelters.
  • Ensure the hiring of Spanish-speaking staff and staff with a child welfare background.
  • Limit placement at influx shelters to children ages 15 and older, without vulnerabilities (such as a child with disabilities, a child who speaks an indigenous language, or a child prescribed psychotropic medication), who have identified sponsors (Category 1 or Category 2) prior to placement, and who are expected to be placed with sponsors within 30 days. If a child cannot be placed with a sponsor within 30 days, they should be transferred to a State-licensed shelter.
  • Prevent the transfer of any child who already has a child advocate or legal counsel to an influx shelter, as such transfer would adversely impact their legal case.
  • Provide access to legal services and child advocates, in a dedicated, confidential space that can accommodate video conversations, to all children temporarily placed at influx shelters.
  • Provide unlimited telephone and video visitation, in a private space, with parents and approved family members or caregivers, at no cost to the child, family member, or caregiver.
  • Provide quality educational opportunities for the duration of a child’s stay.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of requirements for potential influx shelters, but it was compiled with input from trusted advocates. It is my hope that you will work directly with these advocates to ensure the safety of children in our care, and we will continue to work closely with them as well.

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter and I stand ready to work with you to create a system that safely discharges children as quickly as possible, diverts children from the Unaccompanied Children program when they can be and ends the use of influx facilities for good. 

Sincerely,

Rosa L. DeLauro

Chair

House Appropriations Committee