November 28, 2018
By FRANK BAJAK
Earlier this year, the federal agency tasked with caring for asylum-seeking children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border officially took on a new, little heralded role: helping to deport relatives of the young migrants.
In a Wednesday letter to the heads of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security, 112 civil-liberties and immigrant-rights groups, child-welfare advocates and privacy activists are crying foul, demanding an immediate halt to what they call an illegal practice.
HHS and DHS are using information on U.S.-based relatives and other potential sponsors obtained from detained children to “arrest and deport those families,” the authors complain. Already, they write, “families have become too scared to step forward to sponsor children.”
The new role for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, an HHS unit that works to reunite unaccompanied migrant children with relatives until their legal status can be resolved, began under an information-sharing agreement it quietly signed in April with immigration enforcement agencies in DHS.
Fingerprints and personal data from would-be sponsors and members of their households were then fed into a DHS database originally intended to track criminal histories — but revamped in May to aid immigration verification, government documents show.
Wednesday’s letter complains that federal, state and local authorities — and some foreign governments — have virtually untrammeled access to that database, which could subject law-abiding potential sponsors to unwarranted scrutiny.
Federal officials say the information-sharing aims to protect the migrant kids from traffickers and other abuse. But since it began, the average time children spend in federal custody has roughly doubled to more than two months.
Worse, child-welfare advocates say, the arrangement has made unwitting snitches of the children themselves — most of them Central Americans fleeing some of the world’s most violent, lawless nations.