The Government Is 'Not Legally Responsible' For Losing Nearly 1,500 Refugee Children [Updated]


Thanks to Jeff Sessions’s psychotic enthusiasm for separating children from parents at the Mexico border, we know that this administration has about as much love for migrant children as it does for litter. Horrifically, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services has admitted to losing track of 1,475 refugee children who were placed in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. (He didn’t actually have to say that, as “children” have conveniently been renamed with the dehumanizing and palatable moniker “UAC” [Unaccompanied Alien Children].)

In his testimony before a Senate subcommittee on April 26th, DHHS Acting Assistant Secretary Stephen Wagner stated that out of 7,000 children supposedly placed with a parent or sponsor, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) was “unable to determine with certainty the whereabouts of 1,475 UAC.”

And, he added, that “it has been HHS’s long-standing interpretation of the law that ORR is not legally responsible for children after they are released from ORR care.”

As for what happens to those children, migrant rights expert Michelle Brané told Mother Jones on Friday that frankly “we don’t know,” as the ORR “does very little to no follow-up.” In 2014, the Washington Post got a preview of what can happen to those children, as in the case of a group of minors who were given over to traffickers posing as family friends and ended up enslaved in an Ohio egg farm, where they lived in roach-infested trailers and spent their days debeaking chickens and cleaning the pens.

Wagner said that in 2017, 40,810 children were referred to ORR from the Department of Homeland Security, but the largest permanent shelter capacity has 9,800 beds. Photos show children in cages and sleeping under mylar.

In April, the New York Times reported that over 700 children–including 100 under the age of four–have been taken from their children at the border. As far as John Kelly knows or cares, they were placed “into foster care or whatever.

Jezebel has reached out to the Department of Health and Human Services for comment and will update the post if we hear back.

Ivanka posted a nice photo.

UPDATE 5/30: Cecilia Muñoz, former director of the Domestic Policy Council under the Obama administration, pointed out that hoping the federal government would track children might not be in families’ best interests. She clarified to NPR on Tuesday:

This is a federal agency which placed kids, in most cases, with their own families; that doesn’t mean that every placement is terrific. But the most likely case is that these are undocumented families, and they don’t want contact with the federal government. And you don’t necessarily want HHS tracking these families after they’ve placed their kids because, look, in this administration, you can’t necessarily rely upon the authorities not to be using whatever contact they have for purposes of immigration enforcement.

Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services (which oversees the Office of Refugee Resettlement) returned Jezebel’s request for comment. Eric Hargan, deputy secretary of HHS, wrote:

The assertion that unaccompanied alien children (UAC) are ‘lost’ is completely false. This is a classic example of the adage ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’ The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is part of the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), began voluntarily making calls in 2016 as a 30-day follow-up on the release of UAC to make sure that UAC and their sponsors did not require additional services. This additional step, which is not required and was not done previously, is now being used to confuse and spread misinformation.
 These children are not ‘lost’; their sponsors—who are usually parents or family members and in all cases have been vetted for criminality and ability to provide for them—simply did not respond or could not be reached when this voluntary call was made. While there are many possible reasons for this, in many cases sponsors cannot be reached because they themselves are illegal aliens and do not want to be reached by federal authorities. This is the core of this issue: In many cases, HHS has been put in the position of placing illegal aliens with the individuals who helped arrange for them to enter the country illegally. This makes the immediate crisis worse and creates a perverse incentive for further violation of federal immigration law.
The tracking of UAC after release is just one of the recent headlines that focus on the symptoms of our broken immigration system while ignoring its fundamental flaws. President Trump’s administration has been calling on Congress to put an end to dangerous loopholes in U.S. immigration laws like the practice of ‘catch and release,’ in which federal authorities release illegal immigrants to await hearings for which few show up. In the worst cases, these loopholes are being exploited by human traffickers and violent gangs like MS-13. Until these laws are fixed, the American taxpayer is paying the bill for costly programs that aggravate the problem and put children in dangerous situations.

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