A top Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency official confirmed this week that his department has been arresting immigrants who have stepped forward to take custody of undocumented children currently being held by the government, telling a congressional committee that the majority of those detained were for simple immigration status violations.
As CNN first reported, Matthew Albence—ICE’s Executive Associate Director for Enforcement and Removal Operations—told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee on Tuesday that 41 people who came forward to take custody for undocumented children between July and September were arrested as part of a new program to check potential sponsors.
“Close to 80% 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. So we are continuing to pursue those individuals,” Albence said, according to CNN.
An ICE spokesperson told the network that 70% of those arrested during that time period were taken into custody simply due to their undocumented status. 12 people were arrested for more specific criminal violations.
Previously, the Obama administration did not actively pursue arrests of potential childhood sponsors, CNN noted, meaning this latest spate of detentions marks another escalation in the Trump administration’s war on immigrants.
Albence’s testimony, and ICE’s further clarification to CNN, comes as a Senate investigation found the Department of Health and Human Services could not account for nearly 1,500 undocumented immigrant children who had been placed with sponsors in 2018.
Of the thousands of undocumented children currently in government custody, many will likely remain there, as potential sponsors have shied away from stepping forward for fear that the newly imposed background check process—which includes fingerprinting for all household members—will result in further entanglement in Trump’s anti-immigrant campaign. This is a fear, it seems, that has already proven itself to be entirely justified.