Republican Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia questioned Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra about his department’s vetting of sponsors for migrant children who were resettled after crossing the southern border.
Becerra appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations to discuss “Stopping the Exploitation of Migrant Children,” who are the responsibility of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) when they cross the border illegally, as opposed to adults who are processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. During his questioning, Griffith, who chairs the subcommittee, asked Becerra about the absence of DNA testing of sponsors, who children are placed with shortly after entering ORR custody, to prevent exploitation. (RELATED: Biden’s HHS Secretary Dismisses Claims The Agency Lost Tens Of Thousands Of Migrant Children As ‘Misrepresentation’)
“When a familial relationship is claimed, do you all do any kind of DNA test to establish a genetic link between the sponsor and the child? … It became more poignant last night when I was watching “Sound of Freedom,” because the bad guy was bringing a child who was kidnapped across the border … he presented fake documents, claiming to be the uncle of the child,” said Griffith.
“My information indicates that you all only do a DNA test in about 23% of cases, and that’s usually looking for child predators of some sort, and not familial relationships. Is that true?,” he added.
At today’s hearing, I questioned Secretary Becerra about a number of ORR practices, including ways ORR establishes familial relationships between minors and sponsors and if they work with local child welfare agencies. pic.twitter.com/HhsdMMIDeO
— Morgan Griffith (@RepMGriffith) July 26, 2023
Becerra responded that HHS “goes through a thorough vetting process for each and every sponsor. One of the tools that we use is voluntary DNA testing … we make sure we verify the identity of the persons … we will use birth certificates and other documentation.”
Griffith interjected, “But the birth certificates coming from another country, just like the passports presented in the film last night may be forged. You would agree that documents can be forged and aren’t necessarily reliable. I’m a member of ancestry.com and have [taken] their DNA test. They can tell me about fourth cousins I never knew existed on my father’s side.”
Becerra faced questions about ORR’s care and treatment of migrant children who cross the Southern border illegally and alone. ORR has been heavily criticized after recent reports revealed that it had lost track of over 85,000 such children, per The New York Times, with several of them being found working in heavy industrial settings, in violation of child labor laws.
Over 250,000 unaccompanied children crossed the U.S. border with Mexico illegally between 2021 and 2022, the first two years of the Biden Administration, according to an HHS fact sheet — a dramatic increase from 2019 and 2020, where the numbers were 69,488 and 15,381, respectively. The Biden administration has faced frequent criticism from Republicans in Congress about the influx of illegal migrants, as well as procedures undertaken after they enter the country.
In response to a request for comment, Griffith said that he was not satisfied with Becerra’s answers. “What I would like to have heard was that they were going to start doing FBI background checks on sponsors and DNA tests on those claiming a familial relationship,” Griffith said.
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