ACF statement on Sen Merkley unannounced UAC visit to TX shelter

“United States Senator Jeff Merkley (OR-D), along with five other individuals, attempted to enter an unaccompanied alien children’s (UAC) shelter unannounced and broadcast live via social media last night in Texas. Thankfully for the safety, security and dignity of the children being cared for there, they were denied access. The Department of Health and Human Services takes the legal mandate to care for these children seriously. No one who arrives unannounced at one of our shelters demanding access to the children in our care will be permitted, even those claiming to be U.S. Senators. Senator Merkley should respect the UAC program and engage in the appropriate processes, as many of his colleagues have done before him, to visit ORR facilities. We would welcome him to engage in that process so that he may visit the facility to make headway on this important issue, rather than just headlines.”

On Background—

  • The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families is legally required to accept placement for any unaccompanied alien child (UAC) under 6 U.S.C. §279(g)(2) who is referred pursuant to 8 U.S.C. §§1232(b)(1)-(3). HHS plays no role in the apprehension or initial detention of UAC prior to their referral to custody.
  • ORR is legally required to provide for the care and custody of all UAC referred to ORR until they are released to appropriate sponsors, usually a relative, while their immigration cases proceed.
  • The process of identifying potential sponsors begins as soon as a UAC is referred to ORR’s care, with preference given first to parents, then other family members. Approximately 85 percent of sponsors are parents or close family members. If there is not a suitable parent or other relative in the U.S., ORR works with the family to identify an individual who might care for the child while his or her immigration proceedings are pending. Once a sponsor has been identified, the potential sponsor undergoes a multi-step assessment process. The safety and well-being of every child in our care is of paramount importance at every stage.
  • HHS operates a network of over 100 shelters in approximately 17 states and has a proven track record of accountability and transparency for program operations, as well as being a good neighbor in the communities where shelters are located.
  • ORR works in close coordination with local officials on security and safety of the children and the community. These children do not attend local schools while in ORR shelter care. The impact of these shelters on the local community is minimal. Children spend approximately 51 days on average at the shelters and do not integrate into the local community while in HHS custody. They remain under staff supervision at all times.
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