U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), chair of the House oversight panel that directly oversees the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke by phone on June 26, with HHS’s Jonathan Hayes, who heads the agency charged with caring for thousands of migrant children detained at the border. DeGette expressed to Hayes her concerns over recent reports that more than one hundred migrant children were transferred back to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility that had come under fire for failing to provide them adequate care, instead of being transferred into HHS’s care as required under the law.
Hayes told DeGette that HHS’s capacity is strained at the moment and that the agency is working to create additional space to house more children. DeGette asked Hayes for specifics on what the agency was doing to free up additional capacity so to get kids out of CBP facilities as soon as possible. Hayes told DeGette that the agency currently runs 165 shelters in 23 states and that it plans to open two additional facilities in Texas and Oklahoma in the coming days where it will be able to house hundreds of more migrant children.
DeGette reminded Hayes that kids detained at the border are supposed to be transferred to his agency’s care within 72 hours, and asked if that was being done. Hayes explained that HHS can’t act until CBP refers a child to his agency for care and only then can HHS work to locate an appropriate facility with available space to send them. Haye then told DeGette that there are currently 178 children in CBP’s custody who have been there for longer than 72 hours.
DeGette told Hayes that it is his agency’s responsibility to care for the health and well-being of migrant children in U.S. custody, and asked what his agency was proactively doing to ensure that any kid, who should have been transferred into HHS custody already, is receiving the appropriate care. Hayes told DeGette his hands were tied until those kids are actually transferred to HHS custody.
“HHS was given the responsibility to care for these children because they have expertise to do so,” said Congresswoman DeGette. “But it’s clear that neither HHS nor CBP is reaching out to one another to ensure these kids are being provided the appropriate care. We need these agencies working together, and we have to find a way to break down any barriers that are preventing them from doing that. Because, right now, what we have is a system that’s breaking down, and when that happens it is ultimately the kids who are hurt the most.”
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