Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday that he sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra addressing his concerns for the proper care of unaccompanied minors in Arkansas that have come from the U.S.-Mexican border.
During his weekly media briefing, held in the Governor’s Conference Room at the State Capitol, Hutchinson said 672 such unaccompanied minors had been released to sponsors in Arkansas as of the end of September.
He said sponsors are not being properly vetted by federal authorities, and that the state has had increased calls to the child abuse hotline in reference to unaccompanied minors.
He also said that an increasing number of unaccompanied minors have been taken into state custody.
“Some of the children have been abandoned and some living in conditions that are deplorable,” Hutchinson said.
In asking for a meeting with Health and Human Services, Hutchinson said he wants to understand what the government’s vetting process is for sponsors of the children, and then make sure the federal government lives up to its responsibility for them.
He said one of the most important things President Joe Biden’s administration can do is change its policies regarding the unaccompanied minors. “They’re not doing a good job,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson also announced a change in policy for the state regarding COVID-19 booster shots. The change is to simplify recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which the governor said could be “somewhat confusing.”
The state of Arkansas now recommends that anyone who is 18 or older should get the Pfizer or Moderna booster shot six months after their second vaccination. For Johnson & Johnson vaccination recipients, the new state recommendation is for anyone 18 or older to get their booster shot two months after their vaccination.
The CDC recommendations specify that those who had received Pfizer or Moderna vaccinations and are 65 or older should get their booster six months after their second shot, but for those 18-65 it recommends the booster for that age group if they are living in long-term care settings, if they have underlying health conditions, or if they are working or living in high-risk settings.
“We are seeing a need for making the booster shot more available,” Hutchinson said.
He added that the CDC has been notified of the state’s change in booster shot recommendations.
Hutchinson also said he supports President Biden’s infrastructure bill, which was signed into law Monday, and will send about $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,” he said. “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.”