(The Center Square) – Georgia received the eighth greatest number of unaccompanied alien children, primarily arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border out of a total of 23,160 since fiscal 2015. Most have been sent to the most populous states of Texas, California and Florida.
In fiscal 2015, the federal government began reporting UAC data through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is responsible for their care. ORR is housed within the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service’s Office of the Administration for Children & Families.
In fiscal 2023, Georgia received 5,065 UACs, according to ORR data—the sixth greatest number that year, behind Texas, California, Florida, New York, and New Jersey.
The number of children being sent to Georgia has significantly increased in the last few years, with sponsors receiving 559 UACs in fiscal 2020, 4,358 in fiscal 2021, and 5,233 in fiscal 2022.
The total number of UACs sent to sponsors by county for fiscal 2023 is no longer on the ORR or HHS websites as of Dec. 14. The data appears to have been removed after The Center Square first reported on it on Nov. 20.
Only UAC county data from January to March 2023 is on the HHS website, which was last updated on May 11, and several hyperlinks are broken and say “page not found.” A spokesperson from ACF said they are working to correct the problem.
Total UAC county data for fiscal 2023 was previously published on the ORR website. The complete data enabled The Center Square to report on the number of UACs sent to sponsors in 22 counties in Texas, 21 counties in California, and 29 counties in Florida.
The Center Square also discovered discrepancies in ORR published data between the number of UACs ORR sent to sponsors in a state and its counties. The difference is reportedly because not all UACs are sent to sponsors; many are sent to facilities managed by non-governmental organizations, receiving tens of millions of dollars each from federal and state governments. The discrepancy is consistent each fiscal year.
They are also being sent to counties not on the published list because ORR says it’s only listing counties where 50 or more children were sent.
For example, for the month of October, the first month in fiscal 2024, ORR reports that Georgia received 529 UACs. By county, ORR reported Georgia received 190 UACs. They were sent to sponsors in the counties of DeKalb (86) and Gwinnett (104).
The difference of 339 has been attributed to those who were reportedly sent to NGO-run facilities or to sponsors in counties where the total numbers are less than 50.
From March 2003 to July 2022, ORR says it has cared for more than 409,550 children nationwide. The overwhelming majority arriving are males by a roughly 70-30 split, according to ORR data.
A federal law passed in 2003 states, “When a child who is not accompanied by a parent or legal guardian is apprehended by immigration authorities, the child is transferred to the care and custody of” the ORR. Federal law requires ORR to provide these children with food, shelter, and medical care and release them “to safe settings with sponsors (usually family members), while they await immigration proceedings.”
Federal and state lawmakers have raised concerns about ORR’s oversight and care of the children once they are in the custody of sponsors and HHS-contracted facilities. 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 an estimate of more than 100,000 UACs ORR can’t account for within a certain timeframe, meaning the number is likely higher.
At the state level, a Texas-based group has called on the Legislature to enact reforms requiring minimum standards for facilities housing unaccompanied minors. 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.”
In response to its findings, the Florida Legislature enacted several reforms to increase penalties for human trafficking and oversight of facilities and contractors working with federal agencies to house and transport UACs in Florida. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody also recently met with members of Congress and led a delegation of AGs imploring Congress to pass legislation to respond to multiple border security issues.
U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., attempted to hold the head of the ORR responsible by at least eliminating her salary. Instead, 45 Republicans joined Democrats to defeat him.
Republican U.S. senators called on the heads of ACF and ORR to change their policies to protect UACs. “ORR does not even consider a sponsor’s criminal record, current illegal drug use, history of abuse or neglect, or other child welfare concerns’ necessarily disqualifying to potential sponsorship,” they argued in a recent letter outlining their opposition to current policies.
In fiscal 2022, ORR received $5.5 billion in taxpayer funds to oversee the care of more than 113,000 children nationwide.
By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor