Trump Administration Partially Reverses Policy That Drove Up Number of Youth Migrants in Detention

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After a backlash over conditions in youth migrant shelters, the Trump administration has reversed their policy requiring everyone in the home of potential youth sponsors to be fingerprinted. The change could lead to the release of hundreds of youth migrants who are currently in detention, according to Texas Monthly.

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The change will not alter the fundamental issue with the policy—that it requires sponsors to submit their fingerprints, which can then be used by ICE to identify them as undocumented. However, it does reel in the use of that policy to target anyone living in the same household as someone who wants to sponsor a migrant child.

This policy was one of the factors that drove up the number of youth migrants living in shelters since Trump’s inauguration. Shockingly, those living with undocumented immigrants aren’t keen to submit fingerprints to ICE in order to sponsor a child. Since the policy was implemented, ICE has used these fingerprints as a way to arrest at least 170 people.

Now, at least part of that problematic policy will change.

From Texas Monthly:

“In June 2018, (the Office of Refugee Resettlement) put into place a new policy that required all proposed (unaccompanied alien children) sponsors and household members be fingerprinted to enhance the safety checks on residents of the [unaccompanied minor’s]prospective home. Since the implementation of this new policy five months ago, ORR has determined the additional steps required to fingerprint all household members has had an impact on the timely release of UAC without demonstrated benefit to the safety of children after their release from ORR care,” the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. [...]

“The fingerprints will continue to be cross-checked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) national criminal history and state repository records and also includes a search of DHS arrest records. ORR will continue to do public records checks on all adult household members to ensure child safety,” the HHS statement said. Nothing in the statement precludes the use of fingerprints for immigration enforcement.

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With this new policy, only the adult sponsoring the child will need to submit fingerprints to the government, rather than an entire household. Immmigrant advocates believe that the change could help, but not solve, the problem of warehousing unaccompanied minors.

“This is likely to reduce some of the pressure, but we don’t have a way of knowing how much of a difference it’s going to make because the fundamental problems that stem from ORR cooperating in immigration enforcement are going to remain in place,” Mark Greenberg, who oversaw Obama’s unaccompanied minor program, told Texas Monthly.

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“The latest news from HHS is a positive step toward beginning to unravel its misguided fingerprinting policy, which has prolonged the trauma thousands of children in its custody face. Still, the heart of this harmful policy is still in place,” Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees HHS funding, told Texas Monthly.

“HHS should focus on providing the best care for these children, not be used as an immigration enforcement tool by fingerprinting sponsors when there are no red flags and then sharing that information with ICE. This process endangers children and will perpetuate their detention in HHS shelters,” she added.

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The number of youth in detention has skyrocketed since the beginning of the Trump administration: it’s now at 15,000, up from 9,000 this June, when the fingerprinting policy was implemented, and 3,000 before Trump took office.

One likely result of the policy change will be the closing of a massive, supposedly temporary migrant youth camp that immigrant advocates call a “child prison.” The facility, in Tornillo, TX, currently holds 2,700 children. Last week, Democrats called for the tent city to be closed down. About 800 of the children held in the camp already have sponsors waiting to take them home, but the fingerprinting requirement has delayed the process. Those children may now be leaving the facility. Many others might not be so lucky.

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