The government program meant to place unaccompanied children taken from the U.S.-Mexico border into the care of a parent or sponsor admitted last month it lost nearly 1,500 of them.
And it said it isn’t responsible for finding them either.
Senate testimony that was released last month but came to light more recently details how the Office of Refugee Resettlement ― part of the Department of Health and Human Services ― “was unable to determine with certainty the whereabouts of 1,475 [children].” That was according to Steve Wagner, acting assistant secretary with the Administration for Children and Families.
The ORR was tasked between October and December 2017 with checking on the welfare of the more than 7,000 children supposedly placed into the homes of a sponsor or guardian. Along with the nearly 1,500 missing children, an additional 28 ran away and 52 were living with someone other than their initial sponsor, according to the testimony.
But Wagner also said that the “ORR is not legally responsible for children after they are released from ORR care” and handed over to a sponsor. In 2017 alone, more than 40,000 children were taken from the U.S.-Mexico border by the Department of Homeland Security and handed over to the ORR.
“This is as horrific a policy as I’ve seen in 25-plus years doing civil rights work,” Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project, told HuffPost. “No child should be sent to these government facilities if they don’t have to be, especially with all these problems in the ORR system.”
One of those problems includes a terrifying 2014 mistake in which the ORR released several minors to human traffickers.
And what happens when a child can’t be located by the ORR? Nothing, if the system continues to stay in place.
Wagner said he would be taking a “fresh look” at whether the office should have more responsibility to protect the children it takes and gives away. But he also clarified to the subcommittee that if the office were to more rigorously keep track of the immigrant kids, the ORR would need “a significant expansion of the current program structure and an increase in resources.”