Skip to content
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) sent the following letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell regarding how the administration plans to handle the surge of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) who have illegally entered the United States and its cost to American taxpayers:

Dear Secretary Burwell:

Two years ago, President Obama announced his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, halting deportation proceedings for certain young immigrants who illegally enter the country. As with grants of amnesty in the past, the President’s executive action produced a predictable surge in children risking their lives to cross the border. Just recently, the President stated that “our future rests” on the success of people brought to the United States illegally as children, who would qualify for citizenship if Congress passes the DREAM Act.

Your agency has documented the policy’s disastrous effects.  In its most recent budget proposal, HHS predicted that the U.S. would capture 60,000 unaccompanied alien children (UACs) illegally entering the United States in 2014. This is an 815 percent increase from the 6,560 illegal minors caught crossing the U.S. border in 2011. In 2015, the administration estimates that the number will increase to 145,000.  Recent reports indicate that 4,500 unaccompanied alien children arrived just in the month of April.  More recently, border patrol agents were overwhelmed by approximately 1,200 children crossing the border in a single night.
Under the Homeland Security Act, the federal government transfers custody of illegal immigrant children to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The office is charged with providing temporary housing, while ultimately trying to reunite the children with a family member or legal guardian already here in the U.S. (regardless of their legal status) while the child goes through removal proceedings.

HHS recently announced a $350 million grant opportunity to provide shelter for UACs, with funding to be directed to approximately 60 locations. According to press reports, as many as 500 UACs were to start arriving this week at St. Paul’s College, a recently-closed college in Lawrenceville, Virginia. However, HHS’ plans were stymied, at least temporarily, after town and county officials objected to the short notice and complete lack of community input.  I am deeply concerned with HHS’ lack of transparency and preparation and are requesting answers to the following questions:

•    Where is HHS currently housing UACs and for how long?
•    What other sites/locations are currently planned?  Have any leases been signed?
•    How many immigrants do you plan to accommodate?
•    What do you anticipate to be the final cost of housing UACs to taxpayers?
•    HHS is providing various ‘family planning’ services. What exactly are these services and what are the costs?
•    Is HHS prepared to house the influx of immigrants inspired by the President’s immigration policies?
•    What plans does HHS have to inform federal, state and local leaders of UAC housing locations?

This humanitarian crisis is deeply unsettling, and is likely to get worse unless federal agencies’ capabilities and resources are coordinated effectively to address this issue.  I look forward to your response to these questions and an explanation of how HHS is ensuring the well-being of these unaccompanied children.  Given the urgent nature of this matter, please respond no later than July 3, 2014.
A new bipartisan effort to close intelligence agency backdoors and curb government access to private electronic data gained momentum today as the House prepares to debate an amendment sponsored by U.S. Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

The amendment, offered to the Fiscal Year 2015 Department of Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 4870), would cut off funding to two government “backdoors” that currently allow intelligence agencies access to Americans’ private data and correspondence.

“There’s no question Americans have become increasingly alarmed with the breadth of unwarranted government surveillance programs used to store and search their private data,” said Sensenbrenner, Lofgren, and Massie. “By adopting this amendment, Congress can take a sure step toward shutting the back door on mass surveillance. This amendment will reinstate an important provision that was stripped from the original USA FREEDOM Act to further protect the constitutional rights of American citizens. Congress has an ongoing obligation to conduct oversight of the intelligence community and its surveillance authorities.”

One “backdoor” would be shut by prohibiting the search of government databases for information pertaining to US citizens without a warrant. A second would be shut to prohibit the NSA and CIA from requiring the placement of “backdoors” in products.

The amendment is supported by a broad coalition of privacy and civil liberties groups as well as tech companies, including, among others, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Liberty Coalition, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Google, Demand Progress, and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

A full list of cosponsors of the amendment is as follows: Reps. Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Lofgren (D-Calif.), Massie (R-Ky.), Conyers (D-Mich.), Poe (R-Texas), Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Jordan (R-Ohio), O'Rourke (D-Texas), Amash (R-Mich.), Holt (D-N.J.), Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Petri (R-Wis.).
On Tuesday, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste released the 2013 Congressional Rankings for the first session of the 113th Congress. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) responded to his “Taxpayer Hero” score of 96 percent, the fifth highest in the entire House of Representatives:

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “This ranking is a reflection of my tireless commitment to fiscal responsibility and responsible government. We can’t expect to grow our economy and create opportunity for future generations unless we address the out-of-control spending that ultimately drives our debt. I will continue to advance policy solutions that grow our economy and set our nation on a sustainable fiscal course.”
On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a rule aiming to cut 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions nationwide by 2030, an Obama Administration order that skirts congressional authority and puts our economic growth in jeopardy. Of course, this most recent promulgation is part the President’s broader War on Coal, which adheres to a radical, dogmatic brand of environmentalism at the expense of American jobs.
Like most of my colleagues, I care deeply about the environment—Wisconsin has some of the most beautiful hills, lakes and farmland in the country. But I also believe we should be wary of environmental policies that have an adverse effect on economic growth. Under the proposed plan, electricity prices would skyrocket, the cost of doing business would increase and our international competitiveness would diminish.
It's troubling that the President uses the rhetoric of free enterprise and states’ rights to push a plan that is inherently anti-free market. States that don’t meet the Administration’s unrealistic benchmark would fall under a blanket federal plan that ignores the intricacies and nuances of state economies. Rather than relying on stale partisan talking points, which result in inflexible, overreaching policy prescriptions, the President should work with businesses and other affected stakeholders to craft workable solutions to climate change.
Now is not the time to impose schemes that hit consumers’ wallets, damage the economy and affect nearly every stage of production and consumption. Congress already voted down Cap-and-Tax when Democrats controlled the House and Senate—the American people and businesses staunchly opposed it. I will not accept this Administration’s unilateral attempt to enact economy-crushing regulations, and will work with my colleagues to craft policies that protect jobs and produce tangible improvements to the environment.
Last Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the USA FREEDOM Act by a vote of 303-121. It was the culmination of nearly a year of hard work to restore trust in our intelligence community and bring much-needed reform to our government’s surveillance authorities.

Senator Leahy and I wrote the USA FREEDOM Act because the government misapplied our nation’s existing surveillance laws, upsetting the delicate balance between privacy and security. Our bill ends bulk collection, increases transparency and restores accountability. In this age of rapidly developing technologies, these goals are constitutional and practical necessities.

Of course, there were setbacks, compromises and concessions made along the way in order to garner the required support. The Obama Administration insisted on broadening certain authorities and lessening certain restrictions to preserve core operations of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Some of these changes raise justifiable concerns and I share the disappointment many of you feel that this bill doesn’t do more.

But throughout my career, I have not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. With the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act, we made a powerful statement: Congress does not support bulk collection. The days of the NSA indiscriminately vacuuming up innocent Americans’ communications are over. Most importantly, after this bill becomes law, we will have critical transparency provisions to ensure that if the government again violates our trust, Congress and the public will know about it.

Last week’s vote was a first step—not a final step—in our efforts to reform surveillance. It gives us the tools to ensure that Congress and the public can provide an adequate check on the government, while also protecting our national security. Chairman Leahy has indicated that the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the USA FREEDOM Act next month. Fortunately, the upper chamber will have the opportunity to strengthen this bill before the President signs it into law.
The House of Representatives today passed H.R. 3361, the USA FREEDOM Act, by a vote of 303-121, which was introduced by Crime Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “I was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee when we passed the PATRIOT Act, which made our country safer while maintaining the civil liberties that differentiate us from our enemies. But the government abused the law and upset the delicate balance between privacy and security. Today, after months of negotiations, the House publicly and unequivocally rejected the notion of bulk collection by passing the USA FREEDOM Act. While I wish it more closely resembled the bill I originally introduced, the legislation passed today is a step forward in our efforts to reform the government’s surveillance authorities. It bans bulk collection, includes important privacy provisions and sends a clear message to the NSA: We are watching you. I hope the Senate works expeditiously and eagerly await looking over the President’s shoulder as he signs the USA FREEDOM Act into law.”

View Congressman Sensenbrenner’s prepared floor remarks here.
View video here.
It’s no secret that Congress has grown more divisive over the past decade, so it’s gratifying—even nostalgic—for me to see the USA FREEDOM Act, which I authored, pass through the House Judiciary Committee unanimously by a vote of 32-0. The House Intelligence Committee followed suit and approved my bill by voice vote the following day.

I remember the Judiciary Committee similarly coming together after the September 11 attacks, passing the USA PATRIOT Act with unanimous, bipartisan support.  Our actions in 2001 made the country safer, while also protecting the cherished civil liberties that distinguish us from our enemies. Over time, however, the government misapplied the law we passed.
After revelations of NSA overreach surfaced last summer, I knew Congress had to act to protect the civil liberties of innocent Americans. As a result, in October of last year, I introduced the USA FREEDOM Act with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy. Since the bill’s introduction, I have worked with members of Congress in both chambers from across the political spectrum and incorporated reform ideas from privacy groups, legal experts, tech companies, allied governments and the American people.

The amended Freedom Act makes it crystal clear that Congress does not endorse bulk collection and ensures Americans’ civil liberties are protected, while maintaining the necessary tools to protect our national security. While there have been many speed bumps along the way, the path forward is clear. I eagerly await looking over the President’s shoulder as he signs the USA FREEDOM Act into law.
Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee passed H.R. 3361, the USA FREEDOM Act, by a vote of 32-0, which was introduced by Crime Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.). Today, the House Intelligence Committee passed the bill unanimously by voice vote.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “The House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees passed the USA FREEDOM Act, which presents a clear path forward for the House and Senate.  Compromises made with the Intelligence Committee are consistent with our original goals to rein in the NSA and strike the proper balance between civil liberties and national security. I look forward to seeing the USA FREEDOM Act quickly enacted into law.”