Federal officials admitted on Thursday that hundreds of unaccompanied migrant children placed into foster care with sponsor parents have essentially gone missing over the past year.
In a report to the Senate Homeland Security Committee’s subcommittee on investigations which was obtained by the Associated Press, Health and Human Services official Steven Wagner revealed that his agency had discovered 1,475 children were unaccounted for.
According to Wagner’s testimony, officials with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement began contacting 7,635 children and their sponsors this past October in order to conduct welfare checks. They learned that 6,075 of those reached were still with the sponsors to whom they’d been assigned as they waited for their legal status to be processed. Several dozen had either run away, been deported, or been placed with a different family. But nearly 1,500 children were simply unaccounted for—potentially placing them at risk of being preyed upon by traffickers. Wagner cited his agency’s budget as a factor in being unable to provide robust tracking of the children placed in its care.
“Given all that we learned in 2015 and 2016, it’s unacceptable that we can still be this bad at keeping track of these children,” Delaware Democratic Senator Tom Carper told Wagner.
Ohio Republican Rob Portman agreed, saying “H.H.S. has a responsibility to better track these children so they aren’t trafficked or abused, and so they show up to their court hearings.”
According to government data obtained by the AP, many of the migrant children held in this federal foster system come from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and are fleeing the gang and drug related violence of their home countries.
While the government may not be very good at tracking the unaccompanied minors already in its care, it has gotten quite adept at creating new ones. Since October, more than 700 children—at least 100 of which are under four years old—have been separated from their parents by Homeland Security officials upon arriving in the United States.
Of course, to hear the Trump administration tell it, things are going just fine. In an interview with CNN in March of 2017, then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly bragged that “we have tremendous experience of dealing with unaccompanied minors.” Clearly.
Note: This headline initially said that “thousands” of unaccompanied children were unaccounted for. In fact, it is just under 1,500— a shocking number, but not enough to match the definition of “thousands.”