Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents will be able to collect fingerprints and other information from adults who come to get unaccompanied migrant children from shelters under a new plan designed by President Donald Trump’s senior immigration adviser, Stephen Miller, according to The Washington Post.
This month the White House planned to have ICE agents embedded in the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, which runs government shelters for unaccompanied children who cross the border into the U.S. ― but senior officials at HHS rejected the plan, the Post reported, citing unnamed current and former administration officials.
However, HHS officials agreed to let ICE collect fingerprints and other biometric information from adults who came to claim unaccompanied children. If the adults were deemed “ineligible” to take the child into custody, ICE could use the information to arrest and deport them.
This appears to attempt to skirt laws, such as Section 244 under the 2019 appropriations act, meant to limit HHS’s refugee program from being used to deport potential sponsors of unaccompanied children, and may drive fear among migrants and discourage potential sponsors living in the United States ― often family members ― from coming forward to get the children out of government shelters.
ICE told HuffPost that the new initiative was “fully compliant with the law,” adding that once potential sponsors are rejected, they are “exempt” from protections under Section 244. The agency said the initiative is meant to assist HHS with additional screening to ensure children “are not placed with potential sponsors without sufficient verification.” A spokesperson acknowledged that such verification could result in longer stays for children in custody but said this should “take precedence over speed of placement.”
HuffPost reached out to the White House and HHS for comment but did not immediately receive a response.
ICE and HHS officials told the Post that ICE would use the information to better check adults’ backgrounds for criminal records and “red flags,” and not to focus on deporting relatives.
Unnamed Trump administration officials told the Post that adults deemed ineligible to claim children were no longer “potential sponsors” and therefore could be arrested. They also said the initiative is meant to deter parents from sending children across the border illegally into the U.S.
The initiative, which was not announced publicly, was designed by Miller. Earlier this month, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and other Democratic senators signed a letter calling on Trump to fire Miller in light of leaked emails showing the extent of his white nationalist statements.
This article has been updated with comment from ICE.