Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced it would begin fingerprinting family members who came forward to sponsor children being held in government custody after crossing the border, as well as fingerprint all adults in the sponsor’s household. That move raised fears that fewer people would be willing to sponsor unaccompanied minors, concerns that have been borne out since the policy was implemented in June. According to Mother Jones, when the fingerprint policy was instituted in June, about 9,000 children were being held in federal custody; today, that number has mushroomed to almost 15,000, and the average length of time that children spend in government shelters has increased from 40 days in 2016 to 59 days. For those who do come forward, the consequences have been equally as dire—in December, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that it had arrested 170 people who had come forward to sponsor children.
Now, the administration has partly reversed its fingerprint policy, apparently deciding that being slightly less cruel to immigrant families is good policy. The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the network of 137 shelters that house migrant children and teenagers, will now only fingerprint potential sponsors—backing off from the requirement that all adults living with the sponsor submit their fingerprints.
More details from the Associated Press:
U.S. Health and Human Services officials say fingerprints will still be required for sponsors and will be cross-checked with the FBI databases and U.S. Department of Homeland Security arrest records.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency that manages the children, will do public-records checks on all adult household members. Fingerprints for those adults will still be required in certain circumstances, including if the records check uncovers disqualifying factors, like a history of child abuse, a documented safety risk for the child or the child is especially vulnerable.
In a statement, Health and Human Services officials admitted that the fingerprinting requirement did nothing but prolong the time children spent in federal custody. “Since the implementation of this new policy five months ago, ORR has determined the additional steps required to fingerprint all household members has had an impact on the timely release of UAC without demonstrated benefit to the safety of children after their release from ORR care,” they wrote. As HHS’s Lynn Johnson told NPR, “The children should be home with their parents. The government makes lousy parents.” (This is, of course, a gross understatement: as an Associated Press investigation revealed on Wednesday, more than one-third of all children in federal custody are living in shelters, described as “jail-like” by the AP, with more than 1,000 other children, and almost 10,000 are housed in shelters with 100 or more children.)
NPR reported that as a result, thousands of children could be released to their parents and other family members in the coming weeks. But moving forward, potential sponsor’s fingerprints will still be shared with ICE. “The heart of this harmful policy is still in place,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, who is the ranking Democrat on the committee that oversees HHS funding, to Texas Monthly.
DeLauro continued: “HHS should focus on providing the best care for these children, not be used as an immigration enforcement tool by fingerprinting sponsors when there are no red flags and then sharing that information with ICE. This process endangers children and will perpetuate their detention in HHS shelters.”