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Record Numbers of Immigrant Children in Federal Custody Due to Trump Policies That Fail to Consider Best Interests of Children

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Trump’s politically appointed director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) — Scott Lloyd — charged with caring for immigrant children in federal government custody has, once again, failed to consider the best interests of children.  

According to CNN today:

A record number of immigrant children are in US custody, and it’s likely because the Trump administration’s policies are keeping them there.  As of this week, there are 12,800 immigrant children being cared for by the Health and Human Services Department. That’s the most ever, an HHS spokeswoman confirmed. In 2016, the monthly average of the number of children in care ranged from just over 4,000 to over 9,000….According to an official with knowledge not cleared to speak publicly, the rate of children being released from HHS has plummeted substantially. At the same time, the average length of time children stay in custody is skyrocketing.

But this dramatic increase in children in federal custody is not by accident or through no fault of Lloyd and the Trump administration he works for.  As CNN explains, “The cause is likely moves by the Trump administration in its aggressive efforts to tighten immigration.”  Indeed, on April 13, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) signed an agreement that “requires HHS to share the immigration status of potential sponsors and other adults in their households with DHS to facilitate HHS’s background checks.”  Sponsors are adults, often relatives of children in ORR care, who step forward to care for a child outside of ORR custody.  

As noted in a report by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), “ORR personnel estimated [in June] that roughly 90 percent of current sponsors are undocumented.”  Multiple immigrant advocates warned that the new agreement would lead to many such sponsors being afraid to step forward to care for children for fear of deportation, thereby leading to more children remaining in ORR care for longer than necessary.  

In June, Lloyd brushed off those warnings claiming, “‘a motivated sponsor won’t let immigration status deter’ him or her from coming forward for a child.”  Clearly, he was wrong.

All this in spite of clear warnings by pediatricians and psychologists that confining children is inherently harmful to children.

Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch, a project of America’s Voice, said:  “It’s not rocket science to understand that if you threaten the very capability of a person to be available to care for a child through deportation, very few would step forward.  Regardless, facts now show this is the case, so it’s time this administration finally puts the welfare of children first. It’s time to amend the April DHS-HHS agreement to prohibit the wholesale use of immigration status for deportation purposes so that more family members will step forward to care for children outside of federal custody where children are at risk of health issues and abuse.”