Several federal issues I am passionate about have been in the news lately.
First, in regards to the safety of unaccompanied minors who have crossed the border. Second, is the debate over whether COVID-19 originated from a bat or from a lab incident.
On the first matter, I visited Fort Bliss, Texas, in May of 2021. Part of my trip included visiting the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) facility there. ORR is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) tasked with placing unaccompanied minors with a sponsor in the United States.
During my visit, I asked questions using my perspective as a lawyer who used to do custody cases and it became clear that ORR was not doing proper background checks on these sponsors. I also determined there was not significant collaboration with law enforcement when vetting sponsors and the “public records check” they were using was a type of widely available internet search engine. Unacceptable!
When HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra came before the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health in April 2022, I again expressed my concern over ORR’s vetting process. As I said to the Secretary, if this was a typical custody case involving American citizens, someone would be in trouble for this level of disregard for the child’s safety. Either the attorneys, the department of social services, or the judge would be in hot water for not requiring a more complete background and home check.
Secretary Becerra disagreed with my characterization of ORR’s vetting process.
Notwithstanding the Secretary’s opinion, a September 2022 Inspector General study related to the operation at Fort Bliss solidified my concerns. They too raised issues of negligence.
At the E&C Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations field hearing I conducted in McAllen, Texas, on February 8th, I once again raised these issues.
Further, on February 25th, the New York Times published their investigation into a series of troubling examples of exploitation of unaccompanied minors.
It included many stories of middle and high schoolers placed with sponsors looking to profit from their labor, forced to work long hours in poor and dangerous conditions.
The findings of the New York Times investigation is evidence of the results from ORR’s negligent vetting process. This is what I feared when I first raised my concerns.
Unfortunately, until we slow or stop the flow of illegal unaccompanied minors, their exploitation will continue to be an issue.
It is critical we provide oversight to ensure the safety of children for which, rightly or wrongly, we have accepted responsibly.
As Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on E&C, I will be pushing Secretary Becerra for more information and hope to have additional hearings on this subject.
The second matter is COVID-19 origins.
Since the onset of the pandemic and the search for its origins, I’ve stated that we cannot rule out a lab incident. As time passed, in late 2020 or early 2021 I came to the conclusion there is substantial circumstantial evidence favoring a lab source.
In early February 2023, I held a hearing examining the federal response to COVID-19. National Institute of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Lawrence Tabak testified during the hearing that the coronavirus studied at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, bore no resemblance to that of COVID-19 and therefore, could not have been the source of the pandemic.
But how could they know? As I pointed out in the hearing, the NIH has years of missing coronavirus data from their grantee EcoHealth Alliance and EcoHealth’s sub-award grantee, the Wuhan Institute.
While standing with the minority opinion for years that a lab incident was the likely culprit, a few days prior to writing this column, multiple outlets reported the U.S. Energy Department had determined that the COVID-19 pandemic most likely arose from a laboratory leak. This follows a May 2020 report by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory that a lab incident hypothesis was plausible and should be investigated further.
While we are still waiting on the declassification of Energy’s reports, news reports cite new intelligence and analysis led the Department to switch their position from undecided to a lab incident.
Energy is now the second government agency, along with the FBI, to adopt this theory.
Over the next two years, I will do everything I can to get to the truth on COVID-19.
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