Trump administration moves to release
migrant children faster from U.S. custody
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[June 11, 2019]
By Kristina Cooke
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The Trump
administration is again changing the way it vets people who want to
sponsor minors who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border alone in an effort to
speed up the release of thousands of migrant children currently in U.S.
Under the change, announced to staff on Friday, the U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services (HHS), which houses unaccompanied migrant
children, will no longer require an immigration records check on
potential sponsors already backgrounded by the Federal Bureau of
In May 2018, HHS began routinely sending sponsors' fingerprints to
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to check their records on
potential sponsors' immigration history, which would include any arrests
for immigration violations and active deportation orders.
But reconciling the immigration background checks with the FBI records
was a time consuming process for HHS staff, and the addition of the
immigration checks has "not produced any substantive information," said
Evelyn Stauffer, a spokeswoman for HHS.
She said suspending the use of the immigration background checks could
speed up the release of children by at least two or three days. About
13,200 children are in HHS custody, Stauffer said. In May, children
spent on average 48 days in HHS shelters before being released to
sponsors, she said.
Children who are released to people such as grandparents, adult siblings
and cousins - to whom this change applies - tend to stay in custody
longer than children released to parents, because of increased vetting
requirements. In some cases, they stay in care for months.
HHS will continue to share fingerprints with ICE, who will continue to
conduct background checks on potential sponsors, but under Friday's
policy change, HHS caseworkers will no longer review the results, which
significantly delayed the process, Stauffer said.
The change comes as HHS says it is struggling to find shelter space to
respond to a surge of mostly Central American children crossing the
U.S.-Mexico border without a parent or legal guardian. Border agents
apprehended 11,507 unaccompanied children in May, the highest monthly
number since at least 2010, according to government data.
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Unaccompanied minors, part of a caravan of thousands from Central
America trying to reach the United States, are escorted by U.S.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers as they have been
processed for asylum at the Otay Mesa port of entry in San Diego,
California, December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
Unaccompanied children are transferred from border patrol custody to
HHS shelters until they can be released to a vetted sponsor, usually
U.S. President Donald Trump has said unaccompanied minors are taking
advantage of "loopholes" in U.S. immigration law and has proposed
changing laws and regulations that put restrictions on the length of
time and conditions in which children can be detained. He is pushing
Mexico to do more to stop the flow of migrants through their
In addition to sharing information with immigration authorities, HHS
in June 2018 dramatically expanded fingerprinting of sponsors.
The latest policy change, which is effective immediately, is the
third time HHS has rolled back aspects of the increased vetting. In
December, the agency halted the new requirement all household
members be fingerprinted and in March it stopped requiring that all
parents be fingerprinted.
Many sponsors of unaccompanied minors, who are usually relatives,
are living in the United States without authorization and advocates
say some sponsors are now more reluctant to claim children in
custody because their information is shared with ICE, which enforces
Stauffer said HHS is opening a 1,600-bed shelter in Carrizo Springs,
Texas, as soon as possible and will be announcing other sites
shortly. Two military bases are also being assessed, she said.
On Wednesday, HHS said it was suspending educational, legal and
recreational programs for migrant kids in custody because of budget
(Reporting by Kristina Cooke; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Susan
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