45 Republicans vote against defunding ORR head salary over missing children, abuse allegations

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U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. From Rep. Biggs X account

Forty-five U.S. House Republicans voted with Democrats against an amendment to remove an agency head at the center of ongoing allegations of child abuse and neglect. 

After debate on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, filed an amendment on Wednesday using the Holman Rule to remove Robin Dunn Marcos, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Under the Biden administration, Marcos oversees ORR’s scandal-plagued Unaccompanied Children Program, which has funneled an unprecedented number of unaccompanied minors (UAC) into the U.S., arriving at the southern and northern borders. ORR is responsible for vetting sponsors and placing UACs in homes and facilities nationwide.

The Holman Rule allows Congress to reduce a federal employee’s salary, fire specific federal employees, or cut specific programs. 

The U.S. House is considering fiscal year 2024 appropriations measures in HR 5894 to fund the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related agencies. Of the several amendments proposed, Biggs’ Part B Amendment No. 86 failed by a vote of 173-254 with the help of 45 Republicans.

Multiple federal and state investigations have found serious deficiencies of ORR oversight, including allegations of sexual abuse of children in HHS/ORR-contracted facilities and losing track of UACs once they are in the U.S. Several investigative reports identified over 100,000 children ORR can’t account for within a certain timeframe, meaning the number is likely higher. 

A Florida grand jury report found the ORR was “facilitating the forced migration, sale, and abuse of foreign children. This process exposes children to horrifying health conditions, constant criminal threat, labor and sex trafficking, robbery, rape and other experiences not done justice by mere words.” 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis called for the grand jury to convene, which found that “Florida receives no information on backgrounds, criminal history or immigration status of the UAC brought here, nor does the state have any assurance the UAC are in-fact minors.”

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody called on Congress to investigate, which resulted in hearings this year. UACs have been placed with unrelated individuals and put in situations “where they are subject to abuse, including rape, molestation, and effectively forced to work to pay for their travel to the United States in violation of child labor laws,” Moody said.

“Why in the world would we … even have this position who has lost that many children? We know these kids have been placed with pedophiles, in homes where there’s been a dozen kids with a single man” and with sponsors with criminal histories and who are in the country illegally, Biggs said in a social media post

“In a rational world, [Marcos] … wouldn’t have a job taking care of placement of children especially when you have over 100,000 children missing.”

Biggs said the U.S. government is responsible for the children’s well-being.

“I am for shutting the border down. But once we take custody of an unaccompanied child we have a responsibility to at least treat that child humanely and make sure they are not placed in a dangerous circumstance. The bare minimum way you do that is to know where those kids are.” he said. 

According to ORR data, from fiscal 2015 to 2023, the majority of UACs were released in Texas, California, and Florida. In fiscal 2022, these states each received the highest number of UACs in recorded history: Texas (19,071), California (13,730), and Florida (13,195).

A new report published by Alliance for a Safe Texas outlines the need for regulatory reform at the state level. It highlights years of allegations of abuse at HHS-contracted facilities and cites examples of ongoing deficiencies and costs to local communities. The Alliance also opposes an HHS-proposed rule change seeking to codify and expand using waivers to allow these facilities to forgo safety requirements, including mandating criminal background checks of employees, to accommodate an “influx” of children.

“What Americans may not realize,” the Alliance’s founder, Sheena Rodriguez, told The Center Square, “is the facilities housing unaccompanied minors run by nongovernmental organizations receiving multimillion-dollar contracts with the federal government are also receiving contracts from state governments to house American foster care children.”

While Senate Republicans have argued President Joe Biden “has created the largest child trafficking ring in U.S. history,” partially referring to ORR, 45 House Republicans voted to keep in place the director overseeing ORR.

Among them are 10 who represent three states receiving the most UACs:

  • Texas: Michael McCaul. Of Texas’ 22 counties housing UACs, including in McCaul’s district, Harris County received the most in fiscal 2023 of over 6,000. 
  • Florida: Carlos Gimenez, Maria Salazar and Joe Wilson. Of Florida’s 29 counties housing UAC’s, including in their districts, Miami-Dade County received the most in fiscal 2023 of nearly 2,000.
  • California: Ken Calvert, John Duarte, Kevin Kiley, Young Kim, Jay Obernolte, and David Valadao. Of California’s 21 counties housing UACs, including in their districts, Los Angeles County received the most, nearly 4,000, in fiscal 2023.

The Republicans who voted against Biggs’ amendment, according to an analysis by The Center Square, include:  

  • Kelly Armstrong, North Dakota
  • Don Bacon, Nebraska
  • Ken Calvert, California
  • Chavez-DeRemer, Oregon
  • John Duarte, California
  • Chuck Edwards, North Carolina
  • Brian Fitzpatrick, Pennsylvania
  • Charles Fleishmann, Tennessee
  • Mike Flood, Nebraska
  • Andrew Garbarino, New York
  • Carlos Gimenez, Florida
  • David Joyce, Ohio
  • Thomas Kean, New Jersey
  • Jennifer Kiggans, Virginia
  • Kevin Kiley, California
  • Young Kim, California
  • Nick LaLota, New York
  • Michael Lawler, New York
  • Michael McCaul, Texas
  • Daniel Meuser, Pennsylvania
  • Marcus Molinaro, New York
  • Dan Newhouse, Washington
  • Zach Nunn, Iowa
  • Jay Obernolte, California
  • Greg Pence, Indiana
  • Hal Rogers, Kentucky
  • Maria Salazar, Florida
  • Chris Smith, New Jersey
  • Glenn Thompson, Pennsylvania
  • Mike Turner, Ohio
  • David Valadao, California
  • Tim Walberg, Michigan
  • Brandon Williams, New York
  • Joe Wilson, Florida
  • Steve Womack, Arkansas

Republished with the permission of The Center Square.