Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley is probing hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-backed Biden administration contracts with a left-wing nonprofit to help illegal immigrants avoid deportation.
Fox News Digital previously reported that the Vera Institute of Justice, a New York-based nonprofit that views immigration enforcement agencies as a 'threat' to civil liberties, received hefty Health and Human Services (HHS)-backed contracts as part of efforts to keep illegal immigrants in the United States.
Now, Grassley is seeking answers on the federal contracts with Vera, who he says has a history of not fully complying with legal and regulatory requirements regarding the expenditure of government funds. In a Feb. 16 letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, Grassley raised concerns about the Vera contracts, particularly regarding oversight structures to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.
'My concerns with respect to HHS' oversight of its contracts with third parties stems, in part, from HHS' FY 2022 Agency Financial Report,' Grassley wrote. 'In that report, the HHS Inspector General identified a range of problems with HHS oversight of contracts, including contracts for services with respect to unaccompanied alien children.'
'The report included a finding that the ORR 'did not award or sufficiently manage a sole source contract in accordance with Federal requirements,'' Grassley wrote. 'Given that Vera could receive almost a billion dollars of taxpayer funds under one contract alone, even a fraction of improper conduct can add up to large sums of money. A robust oversight structure needs to be in place to protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud and abuse.'
Grassley elaborated on his concerns by referencing a Department of Justice inspector general report that found Vera did not comply with previous 'essential award conditions.'
'Vera did not comply with essential award conditions related to award expenditures including: personnel and fringe benefits, travel, supplies and other costs, consultants and contracts, and subawards,' Grassley wrote. 'Additionally, OIG found issues related to Vera's compliance with award special conditions, procurement practices, subrecipient monitoring, and financial reporting.'
'The audit also found that Vera had $325,907 in expenditures 'that do not comply with legal, regulatory, or contractual requirements; are not supported by adequate documentation at the time of the audit; or are unnecessary or unreasonable,'' Grassley continued. 'This example further demonstrates the need for transparency in how Vera and its subcontractors are using taxpayer funds and what HHS has done to employ robust oversight procedures and policies to ensure Vera is in full compliance with all applicable legal, regulatory, and contractual requirements.'
Grassley posed a series of questions to Becerra, including on HHS oversight procedures, policies, and guidelines that are in place to ensure Vera is in full compliance with all applicable legal, regulatory, and contractual requirements.
HHS did not respond to a Fox News Digital request for comment by press time.
The Vera Institute of Justice and the Acacia Center for Justice, a nonprofit linked to Vera and another left-wing immigration group, have combined to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-backed government contracts since President Biden took office.
According to records previously reviewed by Fox News Digital, a vast majority of the money is going towards efforts to keep illegal immigrants in the United States.
Vera has collected around $350 million from government contracts for immigration services in the past two years. The Acacia Center for Justice has also pocketed tens of millions of dollars in recent federal contracts. The progressive groups landed the contracts amid the escalating border crisis.
Vera received a $171 million HHS-funded contract last March to help unaccompanied minors avoid deportation, the records show. The contract has since paid out around $180 million with supplemental agreements as of December.
The arrangement lasts until March but can hit as high as $983 million if renewed until March 2027. If extended, it will be the most significant federal contract the group has received for immigration-related services.
Vera has also secured other large government contracts since early 2021, including a $168 million contract in March 2021 for the same purpose of helping unaccompanied minors avoid deportation. During this time, the group also obtained smaller contracts ranging from $4 million to $12 million from other federal departments.
Vera did not respond to a request for comment on Grassley's letter.
Meanwhile, the Acacia Center for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit started from a partnership between Vera and Capital Area Immigrants' Rights, has received several 'legal services' contracts from the Department of Justice last September that netted the group around $41 million in payments, records show.
The Acacia Center appears to have launched to expand Vera's work with illegal immigrants detained at the border. However, unlike Vera's government contracts for unaccompanied minors, the Acacia Center's contracts do not specify an age group for the legal services.
Its partner organization, Capital Area Immigrants' Rights, also directs an adult defense program that provides information, support, and legal representation to illegal immigrants, according to its website. It also has a detained unaccompanied children's program that works with minors at the Office of Refugee Resettlement juvenile immigration detention centers in Maryland and Virginia.
The Acacia Center launched last year and received the contracts less than two months after getting a July 2022 determination letter from the Internal Revenue Service, which stated the group's effective date of tax exemption was Dec. 29, 2021, according to filings.