The Trump administration is using the process of placing undocumented immigrant children with sponsors as a way to track down and arrest undocumented individuals, according to a CNN report.
From early July through early September, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained 41 undocumented immigrants who came forward to take care of undocumented children in government custody, and the agency is reportedly planning to go after more.
Children who arrive in the U.S. unaccompanied are often placed with family or members or in the homes of adults who applied to care for the children as they fight to legally stay in the country. That means some of the sponsors arrested over the last few months could have been relatives of the children.
Without their sponsors, undocumented immigrant children fall back into federal custody, maintaining the cycle of indefinite detention.
This news was initially made public on Tuesday, when ICE senior official Matthew Albence testified that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and ICE signed a memorandum of agreement to fingerprint and perform background checks on any potential sponsors of immigrant children.
ICE confirmed that the arrests occurred after the agreement was signed and that 70 percent of the arrests were because the agency discovered the individual was in the country illegally.
The move to put potential sponsors through a harsher vetting process was in response to concerns over whether unaccompanied minors were being placed in potentially dangerous situations and HHS’ inability to account for the whereabouts of hundreds of “missing” children.
Just as ThinkProgress reported back in April, when the #WhereAreTheChildren hashtag went viral, these children were never really “missing” at all. In reality, once undocumented children are placed with sponsors (which is a family member 85 percent of the time) they are no longer HHS’ responsibility. The agency’s only obligation is to conduct a cursory wellness call to the child’s sponsor.
Occasionally, a sponsor will miss the call from the government, forcing HHS to admit that it can’t say with certainty where that child is at that moment. But for sponsors who are undocumented, they likely will choose not to further interact with immigration officials out of fear of the child’s safety or their own ability to remain in the U.S.
The Trump administration appears to have caught on to that and is using the child placement process to find and detain undocumented immigrants.
A side effect of harsher vetting processes, however, would be fewer potential sponsors for unaccompanied minors — something federal immigration agencies and HHS can’t really afford right now, considering the record number of children in detention facilities.
According to recent data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), 13,312 immigrant children were in federal custody as recently as Wednesday, with existing ORR facilities at 92 percent capacity. In May 2017, the number of immigrant children in federal custody was around 2,400.
It is important to reiterate that the increase in children at federal detention centers is not the result of an influx in border crossings, but rather because of how the administration has sharply reduced the number of children being released, placing an immense strain on the migrant shelter network tasked with looking after them.
Keeping the deportation and detention machine running, however, is extremely costly.
In order to keep up with the spiking detentions, HHS is planning to divert $266 million dollars in funding originally allocated for programs like Head Start, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and cancer research, in order to help pay for the detention of undocumented children. And that’s not even including the $169 million the Trump administration cut from other programs to pay for ICE detentions.
According to immigration officials, an average of 43,000 immigrants are being detained every day, which is more than Congress authorized in the current budget. As a result, ICE is requesting an additional $1 billion from the federal government, according to a budget document obtained by The Washington Post. If Congress denies its request, the agency has threatened that thousands of immigrants in federal custody could suffer “reductions in services.”