LITTLE ROCK – Governor Asa Hutchinson has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to express his concern about the number of inadequately vetted sponsors who are taking in unaccompanied minor immigrants in Arkansas.

Nearly 700 unaccompanied minor immigrants have been sent to Arkansas in Fiscal Year 2021,  Governor Hutchinson said during his weekly press briefing today. This is more than double the number released to sponsors in Arkansas in the preceding years.

“They’re not doing a good job of vetting,” the Governor said, referring to HHS “They’re placing them with people who have no sense of responsibility.”

Mischa Martin, Director of the Division of Children and Family Services at the Arkansas Department of Human Services, reports that she was involved in seven specific cases involving unaccompanied minors in the past month.

Some of the children have been abandoned and others are living with sponsors in deplorable conditions, Governor Hutchinson said. Under state law, DHS has an obligation and responsibility to protect the health and safety of children regardless of their immigration status.

Unaccompanied minors aren’t eligible for Medicaid or other benefits, so the cost of their care falls to the state, he said.

The governor is asking HHS to meet with leaders from Arkansas and other states to explain the vetting process and to identify where the process needs to be improved.

Booster shots

The Governor also announced that after consulting Dr. Jose Romero, Secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health, the state is changing its COVID vaccination policy “to make the booster shot more available. We want more people to get the booster shot. The federal policy is somewhat confusing and limited … We are changing that.”

The state’s new guidance allows anyone who is 18 and older to receive a booster of the Moderna, Pfizer, and J&J shots. “This is the recommendation of Arkansas through the Arkansas Department of Health,” Governor Hutchinson said. “This is a change in guidance. It will eliminate confusion and encourage everyone across the board to go get the shot.”

The Governor repeated his encouragement for parents to have their children vaccinated.

President Biden’s Infrastructure Bill

Governor Hutchinson said he supports President Biden’s infrastructure bill, which will send $4 billion to Arkansas for highways, bridges, broadband expansion, and improvement to community water systems.

“This is something that we’ve worked for through the Trump administration and now the Biden administration, and to see it become law is good for Arkansas,” the Governor said. “There should … close to $4 billion in benefits that will come to this state in terms of hard infrastructure of highways … water projects … broadband expansion. Some are concerned this will lead to the larger human infrastructure or spending bill, which I’m opposed to, but let’s not let that hinder us getting something that we’ve wanted to have done in a bipartisan way. I’m delighted to see it pass.”

You can read the HHS letter HERE.