The Trump administration is increasingly targeting undocumented immigrants who volunteer as sponsors of undocumented children in government custody, according to a CNN report.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested dozens of prospective sponsors between July and September, according to Mathew Albence, an ICE official. Albence testified earlier this week that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and ICE had signed a memorandum to perform background checks on potential sponsors of immigrant children.
"We’ve arrested 41 individuals thus far that we’ve identified pursuant to that (memorandum)," Albence testified Tuesday (September 18), according to CNN. "Close to 80 percent of the individuals that are either sponsors or household members of sponsors are here in the country illegally, and a large chunk of those are criminal aliens."
Unaccompanied immigrant children are placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), a division of HHS. ORR then attempts to place the children with parents or a family member as the minors await word on their asylum claims, a process that can take months or years.
An ICE official confirmed with CNN that 70 percent of the arrests the agency has made were for immigration violations. "So we are continuing to pursue those individuals," Albence told CNN.
According to ORR data obtained this week, there are 13,312 immigrant children in federal custody. The record number of detained children does not mean more minors are entering the United States but that the federal government is releasing fewer detainees to sponsors.
In June, a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of Central American minors claimed that children awaiting asylum are being held unconstitutionally in inhumane conditions while wrongfully medicating them and denying their release to family members.
"ORR…prolongs children’s detention on the ground that their parents or other available custodians are or may be unfit, while affording neither detained children nor their proposed custodians a meaningful or timely opportunity to be heard regarding a proposed custodian’s fitness," the lawsuit reads. It adds that the federal agency "places children in facilities in which it knows they will be administered powerful psychotropic medications without procedural safeguards."