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Ranking Member Cassidy Delivers Remarks During Roundtable on Exploitation of Unaccompanied Migrant Children

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, delivered remarks during his roundtable entitled “The Exploitation Crisis: How the U.S. Government is Failing to Protect Migrant Children from Trafficking and Abuse.” Since 2023, Cassidy has conducted an investigation into the Biden administration’s failures to protect unaccompanied children from forced labor and human trafficking. 

Click here to watch the remarks.

Cassidy’s speech as prepared for delivery can be found below:

Thank you, Senators Grassley, Johnson, and everyone here for participating in this very important roundtable.

When President Biden took office, we had the lowest rates of illegal immigration in nearly 50 years. But, instead of maintaining strong border policies inherited from the Trump administration, Biden rushed to overturn them. He ended “remain in Mexico,” reimposed so called “catch and release,” and exempted unaccompanied children from Title 42.

The result: predictably, President Biden’s open border policies encouraged the worst rates of illegal immigration ever, including over 500,000 unaccompanied migrant children. In fact, the month after unaccompanied children were exempted from Title 42, there was the highest monthly total of these children crossing the southern border in history.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement or the ORR has the responsibility of caring for unaccompanied children once they cross the border, ensuring they are released to safe and thoroughly vetted sponsors. The surge of migrant children under President Biden overwhelmed ORR, and children were hastily sent to emergency care facilities with undertrained and unvetted staff and poor living conditions.

As the surge continued, ORR staff were directed by their superiors to prioritize speed over safety and limit the amount of information collected when releasing children to sponsors. Even HHS Secretary Becerra pushed for faster results, telling ORR staff that the sponsor vetting process should be modeled after Henry Ford’s assembly line with “machine-like efficiency”. This reflects either the government workers doing this project, often working from home, are extremely inefficient, or it shows a willingness by the department to override normal precautionary safety measures.

To speed up the process, ORR dramatically weakened its oversight of the sponsor vetting program, including making many vetting requirements optional. Under these policies, ORR officials are not required to check if a sponsor has a criminal record or even verify that the sponsor’s identity is real. For context, out of the 342 case files reviewed from March 2021 to April 2021, ORR did not conduct background checks on 54 cases before sponsors took custody of children. This is both unbelievable and deeply troubling.

What are the effects of these failed policies? Children are being released into dangerous environments to be exploited for illegal labor, leading to serious injuries such as dismemberment and shattered bones. Tragically, one child died when he was pulled into a meat-processing machine.

The Biden administration is failing these children. It's failing human rights. It seems to have decided it is more politically expedient to release children as quickly as possible, without going through essential checks to ensure children are not being released into harmful environments to be abused and exploited.

For years, members of Congress have urged the Biden administration to make real reforms to ORR and protect these children. Instead, ORR released a final rule codifying nearly all of its failed sponsor vetting policies and put these failed policies into agency regulations.

I appreciate Senator Grassley’s leadership in championing a Congressional Review Act resolution to overturn this harmful rule and hold the administration accountable for its policies that actively put children in danger.

As ranking member of the HELP Committee, the Committee with oversight over ORR and child labor laws, I am investigating the Biden administration’s failure to protect migrant children from exploitation. Since 2023, I have sent seven letters to multiple federal agencies, including ORR and the Department of Labor, seeking information to better understand the effects of Biden’s policies.

Regrettably, the Biden administration has refused to cooperate with our investigation, failing to respond altogether or providing vague responses copied and pasted from press releases.

Perhaps more shockingly is that it has even prevented private entities from cooperating with our investigation. When I requested information from an ORR contractor intimately involved with the sponsor vetting process, ORR attempted to block them from answering our questions, instead referring our inquiries to the HHS Office of Legislative Affairs.

This blatant lack of transparency with the American people is reprehensible. Frankly, it is hard to see this as anything other than an effort to cover up and shield the Biden administration from scrutiny for its mistreatment and mishandling of unaccompanied children. Particularly in an election year where the President is behind in the polls. 

The exploitation of children should not be partisan. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. When vulnerable children are harmed or die at the expense of bad policies, everyone should be outraged. Everyone should be seeking to do things better.

President Biden has the power to prevent this by securing our border and reforming ORR to protect children from harm. Unfortunately, Biden is choosing to manage the border crisis as a messaging issue for his campaign rather than addressing the humanitarian catastrophe that has resulted from his policies. If the exploitation of children will not force the President into action, I'm not sure what will.

Thank you to our witnesses for coming today to speak on the situation.  We must protect these vulnerable children from further harm.



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