A top Health and Human Services (HHS) Department official is insisting that reports that the agency's Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) lost nearly 1,500 immigrant children are "completely false."
HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan said in a statement late Monday that the ORR had made voluntary follow-up calls to the children's sponsors, but had not heard back from many of them.
"These children are not ‘lost’; their sponsors — who are usually parents or family members and in all cases have been vetted for criminality and ability to provide for them — simply did not respond or could not be reached when this voluntary call was made," Hargan said.
He also gave one possible explanation for why many sponsors had not returned calls from the ORR. Many sponsors, he said, are immigrants in the country illegally themselves.
"This is the core of this issue: In many cases, HHS has been put in the position of placing illegal aliens with the individuals who helped arrange for them to enter the country illegally," he said.
"This makes the immediate crisis worse and creates a perverse incentive for further violation of federal immigration law."
In a Senate subcommittee hearing in April, Steven Wagner, the acting assistant secretary at the Administration for Children & Families, told lawmakers that the ORR was uncertain about the whereabouts of about 20 percent of unaccompanied minors that it had placed with sponsors.
Wagner's revelation came under renewed scrutiny amid recent reports that immigrant children are being separated from their parents or guardians at the U.S.-Mexico border.
President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Hackers are making big money MORE blamed Democrats for the law separating immigrant families in a tweet on Saturday.
On Monday, Hargan blamed "dangerous loopholes" in the U.S. immigration system that put immigrant children in precarious situations.
"Until these laws are fixed, the American taxpayer is paying the bill for costly programs that aggravate the problem and put children in dangerous situations," he said.