Manchin Challenges Biden's Policy On Unaccompanied Migrant Minors

 June 7, 2024

In a significant bipartisan move, Senator Joe Manchin, now an independent, and 45 Senate Republicans are advocating to overturn a Biden administration rule regarding the treatment of unaccompanied migrant children.

The Hill reported that this contentious rule change, aimed at modifying sponsor vetting and increasing whistleblower protections, has sparked debates over the safety and welfare of these vulnerable young migrants.

Last week, Senator Joe Manchin made headlines by switching his political allegiance from the Democratic Party to become an independent.

This change aligns with his recent actions to lead a substantial challenge against the Biden administration’s new rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The rule in question is said to loosen the vetting process for the sponsors of immigrant children, raising concerns over the adequacy of the care these children receive.

The Controversial Changes in Child Migrant Sponsorship

Under the new HHS rule, the criminal histories of potential sponsors are not considered critical determinants in their approval process.

Furthermore, the rule stipulates that a sponsor’s immigration status is not to be disclosed to law enforcement authorities. Critics argue that these changes could compromise the safety of the children placed with these sponsors.

Additionally, the rule introduces what some perceive as weak standards for conducting post-release home studies meant to assess the welfare of child migrants.

These studies are crucial in ensuring that the children are placed in safe and supportive environments. The concern is that insufficient standards may fail to protect these children adequately from potential harm or exploitation.

Senator Manchin has expressed particular opposition to the aspects of the rule that limit whistleblower rights. According to Manchin, the rule restricts the ability of whistleblowers to report program misconduct to Congress or the HHS inspector general. He argues that such restrictions are detrimental to transparency and accountability, particularly in such sensitive matters involving the welfare of children.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement is responsible for the custody of these unaccompanied minors until they can be safely released to sponsors, who are typically family members.

These sponsors then take care of the children as they await the outcomes of their immigration proceedings. The rule aims to expedite this process but has been met with significant opposition.

In defense of the new rule, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra emphasizes that it is intended to strengthen the standards set by the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, which dictates the treatment of unaccompanied children in terms of placement, release, transportation, and monitoring.

Becerra has stated, “By enhancing the legal framework governing the UC Program, we set clear standards for the care and treatment of unaccompanied children in ORR’s custody and the support they receive as they transition into new communities.”

Despite the administration’s assurances, Senator Manchin remains unconvinced. He articulated his apprehensions by saying, “We have a crisis at our southern border and its human impacts are devastating. Instead, the Administration is allowing rules like this one to jeopardize the safety of migrant children and trust them in the hands of unvetted sponsors.” Manchin condemns the new rule for potentially exposing children to cycles of exploitation.

Legislative Path for Resolution

Through the power granted by the Congressional Review Act, Senator Manchin can bring a resolution to overturn this rule directly to a vote, circumventing any potential blocks from other lawmakers.

Remarkably, this resolution is protected against filibustering, allowing a straightforward majority vote to decide its fate.

The resolution must be approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives before it is presented to the President for his signature.

The outcome of this political maneuver could have significant implications for the Biden administration’s immigration policies and the welfare of unaccompanied migrant children.

To conclude, the debate over the HHS rule spotlights the complex balance between expediting the placement of child migrants and ensuring their safety and welfare. Senators led by Manchin are challenging the rule based on concerns about inadequate vetting and insufficient whistleblower protections, reflecting broader questions about the best approach to handle unaccompanied migrant children. This issue not only pertains to immigration policy but touches on fundamental principles of child protection and governmental transparency.

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