On Wednesday, Governor Doug Ducey fired off a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra, expressing his “significant concerns” about the safety of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border. Ducey noted that the children face considerable risks “because of insufficient federal oversight.”
In his letter, Ducey wrote: “The crisis at the southwest border is spilling into other areas of government beyond the United States Department of Homeland Security. The increasing number of unaccompanied minors is stressing the ability of the Office of Refugee Resettlement to respond appropriately, and jeopardizes both vulnerable Arizona children who have experienced abuse and neglect as well as migrant children.”
The letter strongly urges the administration to:
- Cease efforts to redirect licensed beds that are currently serving Arizona foster children;
- Review and adjust ORR’s practice of vetting host sponsors through virtual home visiting; and
- Reconsider and adjust ORR’s procurement practices for shelter beds that negatively influence the Arizona Department of Child Safety’s ability to serve foster children.
Ducey’s concerns mentioned in the letter include efforts by HHS to redirect service providers assisting American children who have been abused or neglected to migrant children. The state has lost space for foster youth to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) as a result of recent federal action.
Additionally, Ducey alleges that the vetting processes used by HHS is “insufficient,” including virtual home studies, “put vulnerable migrant children at risk of human and sex trafficking.”
“While we recognize the need of additional space to house unaccompanied minor children, the solution cannot be to try to obtain that space from providers that are essential for the state’s child welfare agency to care for Arizona’s abused and neglected children,” the Governor continued in the letter. “Unfortunately, this is the route the ORR has taken.”
ORR’s current grant making and contracting practices create an unfair advantage that directly negatively impacts vulnerable foster children. Additionally, the recent passing of the Families First Prevention Services Act means states will no longer receive a federal share of reimbursement for children residing in beds from ORR. This removal will impact Arizona’s budget by $25 million in State Fiscal Year 2022, and adds to the combined action that threatens to displace vulnerable American foster children from safe homes.
The Governor is urging the Secretary to immediately adjust HSS policies for the protection of foster children as well as migrant children.