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Sens. Britt and Tuberville try to block changes to unaccompanied children policy

Alabama’s senators sponsored a resolution to prevent the Office of Refugee Resettlement from codifying protections for immigrant children in custody.

Sen. Katie Britt and Sen. Tommy Tuberville
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Earlier in June, Alabama Senators Katie Britt and Tommy Tuberville cosponsored a resolution to block a proposed change to the rules around unaccompanied migrant children in federal custody.

Drafted by the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Department of Health & Human Services, the proposed policy would codify the Flores Settlement Agreement, a 1997 legal agreement that established guidelines for the treatment of immigrant children. Britt’s office said it would also “[codify] harmful practices.”

When it was finalized in April, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra stated that the rule “underscores HHS’ unwavering commitment to the health, safety, and welfare of unaccompanied children in our care.”

Wendy Young, the president of Kids In Need of Defense, or KIND, said that despite some concerns the organization “strongly supports ORR’s efforts to codify the Flores Settlement Agreement and the agency’s commitment to updating policies and regulations to reflect child welfare best practices.”

But in Britt’s recent statement, the senator called the proposed policy change the “latest in a series of inhumane, reckless policies that only pour fuel on the fire.”

“Instead of enabling cartels and other bad actors to traffic and exploit more innocent children, it’s well past time to secure the border and end the lawlessness,” Britt continued.

The Republicans who sponsored the resolution against the policy change pointed to “lax or optional sponsor vetting,” “refusal to consider a sponsor’s criminal record,” “refusal to share a sponsor’s immigration status with law enforcement,” “weak standards for post-release home studies,” and “restrictions on whistleblowers’ rights.”

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During the public comment period, the ORR responded to several of these critiques specifically, including by pointing out that the proposal has “no effect on existing whistleblower protections” and “proposed § 410.1202(c) requires background and criminal records checks.”

Additionally, all regulations meant to replace the Flores Settlement Agreement have to be at least as strict as the FSA. In the 2020 court case Flores v. Rosen, an attempt to terminate the FSA was rejected because some of the replacement regulations’ protections for minors in custody were weaker.

Under the Congressional Review Act, if both the House and the Senate pass a resolution of disapproval like the one Britt and Tuberville sponsored, and can override a presidential veto, they are able to reject a federal agency’s proposed rule change. But with a two-thirds majority required to overturn a veto, the resolution is unlikely to undo the rules change while a Democrat is in the White House.

This is also not the first time that Britt and Tuberville have criticized Biden’s immigration policy. They both released statements criticizing the president’s decision to heavily restrict border crossings and Britt has been a vocal sponsor of the Laken Riley Act.

Britt has said she plans to “continue to stand up to President Biden’s dangerous agenda, which is putting American families and vulnerable migrants in harm’s way every single day.”

The new rule went into effect on July 1.

Chance Phillips is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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