Barletta Introduces Unaccompanied Alien Children Transparency Act
WASHINGTON – Congressman Lou Barletta, PA-11, today formally introduced legislation to empower governors and local elected officials to control whether or not the federal government can place unaccompanied minors, who have illegally entered the country, into their communities. H.R. 5409, the “Unaccompanied Alien Children Transparency Act” would require the federal government to inform states and localities of relocation plans in advance, and would require the federal government to certify to the states that the minors will not pose a health or public safety risk to the community. It would also require the federal government to provide information such as the costs associated with the housing and education of these minors. Barletta previously announced his plans to introduce the measure in a press conference last week in Hazleton.
The Unaccompanied Alien Children Transparency Act is in response to the flood of illegal immigrants streaming across the United States border with Mexico, a result of Obama administration policies that advertise that those who violate U.S. immigration law will not be returned home. Thousands of unaccompanied minors have been transported to communities across America, including 456 in Pennsylvania as of July 31, 2014. In Pennsylvania, those localities include Mechanicsburg, Womelsdorf, Bethlehem, Montgomery County and Philadelphia. Various news reports indicate that some of the unaccompanied minors arriving at the border are carrying infectious diseases, or are affiliated with violent, criminal gangs.
Earlier this summer, Rep. Barletta learned of a proposal by the non-profit U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants to house unaccompanied minors in Hazleton. Once Barletta released this information to the public, the organization cancelled its plans following community opposition. Had Barletta not been informed of the situation by Hazleton officials, the plan would have proceeded without public notice.
The legislation will require the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide detailed information regarding plans for relocation. The Secretary will have to inform governors and local elected officials of the locations and durations of any housing contracts awarded, and also provide an assessment of the costs associated and potential impact on education, health, and public safety. The Secretary must also certify to state and local officials that the unaccompanied minors have undergone health screenings, including vaccinations, and pose no public health threat. Additionally, the Secretary must certify that the unaccompanied minors and the facilities taking custody of them have undergone background checks and pose no public safety threat.
Empower States and Localities
The legislation will require HHS to provide a 30-day notice and comment period for states and localities to review any proposed contract and accompanying certifications of health and public safety background checks. At the conclusion of the 30-day comment period, HHS will have to hold a public hearing within 10 days and provide a representative to address community concerns or questions.
At the end of the initial comment period, the governor of the state in question must affirm the contract within seven days for it to take effect. The contract would be vetoed if the governor does not affirm the contract. If the governor does affirm the contract, then a majority of the local elected officials with jurisdiction over the proposed location will have seven additional days in which they must also affirm the contract. Similarly, if the local elected officials do not then affirm the contract, the contract would be vetoed.
Statement for the Record
Barletta submitted the following statement for the official record upon his introduction of H.R. 5409:
Mr. Barletta, Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing legislation to empower governors and local elected officials to control whether or not the federal government can place unaccompanied minors, who have illegally entered the country, into their communities.
For the last several months, the United States’ southern border with Mexico has been flooded by illegal immigrants, many of them who are unaccompanied minors.
Throughout my time in Congress, I have been a leading voice in arguing for securing our borders. I have also opposed amnesty for illegal immigrants who are already here. And I have fought for a biometric exit system to make sure that we know exactly who has entered the United States on a visa, and who has not returned home as they were supposed to.
More than 60 thousand so-called “unaccompanied minors” have arrived at our southern border, mostly from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This is a 10-fold increase in unaccompanied minors crossing the border since 2011. We have heard a lot of excuses for why they have come here in violation of our immigration laws. We have been told that they are fleeing violence in their home countries, but there has not been any substantial increase in violence there. So it must be something else.
What has changed is that the Obama administration implemented its DACA policy – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – in 2012. This policy tells people that, so long as they make it to this country safely, they won’t be asked to leave. The president has put out the welcome mat for residents of other countries, and told them that our immigration laws will not be enforced.
I went down to the border, near McAllen, Texas, and saw the situation with my own eyes. Some of the individual cases I heard were heartbreaking.
But when I talked to the Border Patrol agents, they told me a different story. Some of the “unaccompanied minors” are in fact arriving with members of their families, or they are seeking to meet up with members of their families who are already here illegally. In addition, over three fourths of them are males, between the ages of 14 and 17. And some of them are affiliated with violent, criminal gangs, or are being recruited for gang membership right there at the border.
And some of them carry communicable diseases.
And, the administration has begun to transport thousands of these illegal immigrants to communities all across the country.
That’s where the problems in our own backyard begin.
Just a couple of months ago, I learned from city officials in Hazleton, my hometown, that they had been contacted by a non-profit group, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, about housing some of the minors at a location right across the street from my district office.
That’s how I found out – because the organization had called the city. The federal government didn’t tell anyone about the plan: not the Governor, not the Department of Public Welfare, not Luzerne County.
When I made the information public, residents of Hazleton rightly expressed their concerns, and the plan was dropped.
But we learned an important lesson in that episode: the federal government is working with organizations across the country to place unaccompanied minors in various communities … without telling anyone in the state or locality that they are doing so.
As of July 31st, we know that at least 456 unaccompanied minor illegal immigrants have been released to sponsors in Pennsylvania. The shelters and facilities – according to the best information available right now – are in Mechanicsburg, Womelsdorf, Bethlehem, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia.
There could be others, and there could be plans – right now – being made to house more … all without telling state or local governments.
This must stop.
So today I am introducing legislation that will give state and local governments a heads-up when such plans are in the works.
My “Unaccompanied Alien Children Transparency Act” is very straightforward.
It truly will empower states – governors of states – and local governments by providing them with all of the information they need to make an informed decision about relocation plans, and giving them an opportunity to either approve or reject those plans.
First, it will require the Secretary of Health and Human Services, also known as HHS, to provide detailed information regarding the pending relocation of unaccompanied minors. The Secretary will have to inform state and local elected officials of the locations and durations of any housing contracts awarded, and also provide an assessment of the costs associated with and potential impact on education, health, and public safety. The Secretary must also certify to state and local officials that the unaccompanied minors have undergone health screenings, including vaccinations, and that they pose no public health threat. Additionally, the Secretary must certify that the unaccompanied minors and the individuals who will take custody of them have undergone background checks and pose no public safety threat.
Not only should states and localities know about these relocation plans, they ought to know what impact the unaccompanied minors will have on the community. Who exactly are they, and what kind of background screenings have been done? If they will be educated locally in public schools, how much is that going to cost? These are important questions that any community would ask.
The legislation will also require HHS to provide a 30-day notice and comment period for states and localities to review any proposed contract and accompanying certifications of health and public safety background checks. At the conclusion of the 30-day comment period, HHS will have to hold a public hearing within 10 days and provide a representative to address community concerns or questions.
At the end of the initial comment period, the governor of the state in question must decide whether to affirm the contract within seven days. If the governor does not affirm the contract, it is effectively vetoed. If the governor does affirm the contract, then the county commissioners for that jurisdiction will have seven additional days in which to object to the contract. If a majority of the county commissioners do not affirm the contract, then it is again effectively vetoed.
The people in my home city of Hazleton found out about the plans to bring unaccompanied minors into our community, and they made their voices heard. It’s only fair that Americans everywhere have the same opportunity, through their elected officials at the local and state level.
Last week I held a press conference in Hazleton to announce my intention to introduce this legislation, and I was joined by our Chief of Police, Frank DeAndrea, and the Superintendent of Hazleton Area Public Schools, Dr. Frank Antonelli.
Dr. Antonelli told me that this school year, four teenagers – part of the wave of the so-called “unaccompanied minors” – came forward to enroll in the Hazleton school system. They are three males, ranging in age from 14 to 17, and one female, approximately 12 years of age. All four have had no formal education at all in their entire lives, and speak no English.
How, Mr. Speaker, is a local school division expected to deal with these new students? What grade do they go into?
And since we know that there are as many as 14 distinct dialects of Spanish spoken in some countries, how exactly are the schools expected to communicate with him?
This is a problem that the federal government has dropped on the doorsteps of localities around the country.
This bill is especially important right now, because we have seen the federal government act in secrecy.
The administration has denied ‘right to know’ requests from various organizations, and refuses to disclose exactly where the children are being transported.
This is from a president who promised to be transparent.
Unfortunately, this legislation is necessary to make sure that our states and localities know exactly what the federal government is doing right in their own backyards.
Now, I’m a father and grandfather, and I have seen the conditions of some of the people who have come to the southern border. I have compassion for their situations.
But I also believe that the responsibility for them should rest largely on the countries that they came from.
This should not be America’s problem alone.
And it certainly shouldn’t be the problem of states and localities, which are right now being kept in the dark about the movements of illegal immigrants.
Mr. Speaker, the failure of the federal government to do its job in enforcing immigration laws should not become a growing burden on the folks back home.