Arizona Lost “Space For Foster Youth” To ORR’s Unaccompanied Migrant Children

CBPO Matthew Huffman holding a 3-year-old boy at Yuma processing Center [Photo courtesy CBP]

After months of waiting and countless number of children being trafficked into Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey on Wednesday wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, with concerns with the increasing number of unaccompanied minors “stressing the ability of the Office of Refugee Resettlement to respond appropriately.” Ducey recognized that the current situation is jeopardizing both “vulnerable Arizona children who have experienced abuse and neglect as well as migrant children.”

Concerns outlined 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, insufficient vetting processes used by HHS, 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.

“These are the unintended consequences of an open borders policy by the current administration. The lack of resources is the tip of the iceberg. We have sex offenders entering the country and being released into our communities, not deported. Children both US and foriegn born have become pawns in a deadly game that exposes them to extreme conditions, lack of services, and inadequate capacity. We hope the Governor will continue to speak out as we believe many of these children are sexually abused and vulnerable to sexual exploitation,” Kathleen Winn, Executive Director of Project 25, an anti-trafficking organization, told the Arizona Daily Independent.

Ducey’s letter strongly urges the Administration for Children and Families 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.