COLUMBIA - The Republican members of South Carolina's congressional delegation sent a letter to the secretaries of Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, requesting additional information concerning undocumented children being housed in South Carolina.
In the letter dated July 28, the congressmen expressed frustration after the Department of Health and Human Services announced that 350 undocumented children were placed with sponsors in South Carolina without notice to local authorities.
"We are troubled that this data is just coming to light and was not provided to Congress or our delegation in a timely and regular fashion," read the letter, which was signed by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, and Reps. Joe Wilson, Mark Sanford, Jeff Duncan, Trey Gowdy, Mick Mulvaney and Tom Rice.
Mulvaney said they first drafted a letter last week, in an effort to request more information. On Friday, however, they learned HHS had already placed the 350 children in South Carolina homes.
"What's frustrating is how little we still know," Mulvaney said Tuesday. "We don't know where these kids are going. We don't know to whom they're going and the potential for abuse there is outrageous. It's a failure at many, many levels by the administration."
The letter asks if any additional children are being housed in the state, and asks for a 14-day prior notification before housing any undocumented children at a military installation or HHS-contracted shelter in South Carolina.
"I am extremely concerned that my office's repeated attempts to request data about any and all placements in South Carolina were consistently met with misleading information," Scott said in a written statement through his spokesman.
"Throughout this process, we have continually been told by various Obama Administration agencies that no unaccompanied minors had been placed in South Carolina and that no plans existed to start those placements," he added. "Clearly that information was wrong, and the administration must provide us the truth in answering today's letter."
Other officials nationwide also have voiced frustration with the placement of the children in their states, including the governors of Georgia, Wisconsin, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Utah. All sent letters to President Barack Obama expressing concerns about the children.
During a conference call with federal officials last week, governors and their staff were told children are treated differently than adults. Undocumented adults are placed in shelters. Unaccompanied minors are placed with sponsors, a move that's in the "child's best interest," according to HHS' website.
Feds ensure the sponsors do not have a criminal history, and that the children are vaccinated and medically cleared. But they do not check for the sponsor's legal status.
It is unclear how the children are arriving in South Carolina, whether sponsors are physically picking them up or if they are being transported individually to the state. The governor's office confirmed that the federal government has no plans for housing undocumented adults in South Carolina.
Gov. Nikki Haley spoke to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on July 16, and he told her no undocumented minors were being housed in shelters or facilities in South Carolina, according to a letter she wrote the following day. Haley was told by Johnson, however, that federal law prevented him from speaking about individual placements.
Mulvaney said the border crisis has all but halted discussions on immigration reform predicated on border security. He added he believes the Obama administration has no interest in fixing immigration.
"This is not an issue of the president not having enough money," Mulvaney said. "It's an issue of the president not having the political desire to do his job and enforce the border. And we're going to see negative ramifications of that in our schools, in our healthcare, in our communities."
Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.