By Elise Viebeck - 06/19/14 03:41 PM EDT
Members of Congress are demanding federal health officials disclose how they plan to care for nearly 50,000 unaccompanied child immigrants who have been apprehended at the southern border.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is one of the agencies designated to maintain custody of the children, a little-known responsibility that could prove arduous as the number of unaccompanied kids continues to surge.
One, from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), focused on the security of immigrant kids against traffickers and asked HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell for details on how potential guardians are screened.
"The children who have made this journey are alone and vulnerable — facing the threat of murder, kidnapping, rape, sexual slavery and forced labor," the lawmakers wrote.
"We ask that you work with us to ensure the American people that your Department is mitigating this growing humanitarian crisis."
The other letter, from Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), focused on the cost and logistics of housing the children.
"I am deeply concerned with HHS's lack of transparency and preparation," wrote Senensenbrenner, citing reports that one Virginia location meant to house the kids is off the table because of a backlash once the community learned of the plans.
"What other sites are currently planned? Have any leases been signed? ... What do you anticipate to be the final cost of housing [the children] to taxpayers?" he wrote.
The situation is one of the first challenges facing the newly appointed Burwell, who replaced Kathleen Sebelius as head of the department this month.
Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children have illegally crossed the border with Mexico in the last six months, taxing local services.
In response, the Obama administration declared a "humanitarian crisis" and appointed Craig Fugate, the administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to coordinate care for the kids among the agencies involved.