The Trump administration on Tuesday (May 29) announced in a conference call with reporters, per Reuters, that it plans to require parents claiming custody of children who entered the United States unaccompanied to be fingerprinted. It’s a move that immigration advocates say will discourage parents from claiming their children for fear of detention and deportation.
Currently, parents are not required to submit fingerprints to obtain custody of their children. Under the new protocol, to be implemented in a few weeks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will assist the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in fingerprinting every parent who claims custody.
"We’re going to more thoroughly vet sponsors," Steven Wagner, assistant secretary of HSS’ Administration for Children and Families, said on the call. "With DHS’ cooperation, we will conduct a fingerprint-based background check for every sponsor." There is no word yet if they plan to use the data collected to track the children after they are placed with sponsors.
Federal laws stipulate that unaccompanied immigrant children cannot be incarcerated. Instead, HHS houses them in federal shelters until the minors are placed with sponsors, typically close relatives such as parents or siblings.
During a Senate committee hearing last month, Wagner said that HHS lost track of 1,475 children who crossed the United States-Mexico border unaccompanied and were placed with adult sponsors. The agency blamed a limited budget for its inability to track the children. A 2016 investigation by The Associated Press found that two dozen children placed in homes had been sexually assaulted or forced to work for little pay.
"You are the worst foster parents in the world. You don’t even know where they are,” Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said in a followup hearing. “We are failing. I don’t think there is any doubt about it."
But immigration advocates say the directive announced yesterday by DHS will discourage parents from claiming custody of their children.
"This policy will undoubtedly make it more likely that qualified sponsors will hide in the shadows, leaving vulnerable young children to languish in immigration jail," Rich Leimsider, executive director of the Safe Passage Project, told Reuters.