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May 08, 2020

House Chairs Press Trump Administration to Rescind Policies that Delay Release of Migrant Children

May 8, 2020 (WASHINGTON) – Today, several House committee and subcommittee chairs sent a letter to the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health & Human Services (HHS) regarding recent news reports alleging that the Trump Administration is considering implementing policies that could unnecessarily delay migrant children in HHS care from being reunified with their sponsors.  The chairs again urge the Administration to rescind a Memorandum of Agreement requiring information about sponsors for migrant children be shared by HHS with DHS.  A group of House chairs previously wrote the Administration on this issue last July

Despite current law, Congressional directives, and the current COVID-19 epidemic, the Administration continues policies that will lengthen the time migrant children spend in HHS care, thus keeping these children in congregate settings and therefore at heightened risk for exposure to COVID-19.  There have been 68 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among children in HHS care.

The letter, led by Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, has also been signed by: Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee; Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee; Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee; Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee; Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Chair of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee; Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Chairwoman of the Homeland Security Committee Border Security, Facilitation, and Operations Subcommittee; Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Chair of the Judiciary Committee Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee; and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Link to letter

Letter text:

We write with deep concern over recent reporting alleging that Administration officials are considering implementing policies that could unnecessarily delay the reunification of unaccompanied minors in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with their sponsors.  These concerns are heightened by the current COVID-19 epidemic, which poses significant risks for all individuals held in congregate settings.

We are particularly wary of expanded information sharing under the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between your Departments. As we wrote last summer, we continue to have strong concerns that the MOA, which has been used in the past to deport a child’s family and loved ones, will have a chilling effect on reunifications by forcing migrant families to choose between sponsoring children and risking arrest. The effect of that policy undermines the best interests of children in HHS care. This is particularly dangerous given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has already resulted in 68 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among children in ORR care, including 38 children within just one facility in Illinois.

HHS previously fingerprinted all adults in a sponsor’s household for a period of about six months in 2018. However, according to HHS Administration for Children and Families (ACF) Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson, HHS found that the extra screening did not add to the protection or safety of the children.   In addition, the HHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that the MOA resulted in children spending a significantly increased length of time in HHS care, reaching an average length of stay of 93 days in November 2018. The OIG found that the length of stay declined as HHS reduced fingerprinting requirements.  The Administration must not revisit a policy that has been found to be detrimental to the interests of the children in its care.

We find it extremely troubling that both the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and HHS are reportedly considering ignoring Congressional directives and reimplementing policies that are expected to delay the placement of children in HHS care with sponsors.  The law has been clear – the Administration is not to deter potential sponsors from coming forward by using information shared under the MOA for deportation purposes, except in very limited, specified circumstances.  Yet DHS’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) violated the law and utilized the information collected from adults deemed ineligible for sponsorship for deportation purposes.  ICE’s continued use of data collected by HHS for the placement of children in safe homes also represents a violation of the law.

In addition, Congress directed HHS in the Fiscal Year 2020 Further Consolidated Appropriations Act not to reverse operational directives from 2018 and 2019 that reduced the length of time children spent in HHS care. Congress also directed HHS to “continue to work on efforts to reduce time in care and to consider additional policy changes that can be made to release children to suitable sponsors as safely and expeditiously as possible.” 

We urge you to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of children in your care and rescind the MOA. In the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic, this should also include taking all reasonable measures to release children in your care to sponsors as quickly as possible. Thank you in advance for your consideration of these requests.

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Press Contact

Thompson: Adam Comis
Pallone: CJ Young
Nadler: Daniel Schwarz
Lowey: Evan Hollander
Roybal-Allard: Ben Soskin
DeLauro: Will Serio
Rice: Stuart Malec
Lofgren: Ally Kehoe
DeGette: Danielle Cohen