The Trump administration has reached another shameful milestone in its immigration policy, with the number of unaccompanied immigrant minors in U.S. custody reaching a record number of 14,056.
The San Francisco Chronicle, citing a government source familiar with the statistic, said the number of children in Department of Health and Human Services custody surpassed a previous record set just two months ago, and there is no sign the trend will change soon.
One reason this number is increasing, the report said, is a new policy by Immigration and Customs Enforcement enacted earlier this year that allows ICE officials to gather information on potential sponsors of unaccompanied minors. This permits ICE to target and arrest undocumented sponsors for deportation, and it causes many of them to become too frightened to come forward to claim the minors. This policy is a change from the approach of past administrations.
“The [then] proposal has the potential to drastically expand ICE’s enforcement dragnet,” Katie Shepherd of the American Immigration Council told the Daily Beast last May. “It may ultimately harm—not help—unaccompanied children whose sponsors and loved ones end up being targeted and detained by ICE due to the increased screening.”
The effect of that policy has meant that unaccompanied children are spending more time in government holding facilities, the Chronicle said. “ICE confirmed in September that it had used that information to arrest undocumented adults who came forward to take custody of children,” the report said.
According to Axios, between July and September, ICE reportedly arrested 41 people who had tried to become sponsors of undocumented migrant children.
In response, Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris this week co-sponsored a bill to block the ability of immigration authorities to use information they collect while finding sponsors for unaccompanied minors to arrest family members, according to the newspaper.
“Children don’t belong in detention facilities,” Harris tweeted on Thursday. The Families Not Facilities Act, co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, also would transfer $220 million to HHS and FBI programs aimed at providing care for children and child migrants, Axios reported.
Meanwhile, HHS spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer said the problem is due to a border “crisis” and a “broken immigration system,” according to the Chronicle.
In related news, ICE’s acting director Ronald Vitiello told senators at a confirmation hearing this week that the Trump administration could move forward with a proposal to detain for up to 20 days families seeking asylum. According to The Washington Post, families would be given a choice: “Stay in jail with their child pending a deportation hearing, or allow children to be taken to a government shelter so other relatives or guardians can seek custody of them.”
Vitiello claimed that policy would deter migrant families from bringing or sending their children to the U.S.