US to fingerprint child visa sponsors
04 June 2018 17:19 GMT

The Trump administration has announced it plans to fingerprint parents claiming custody of children who entered the United States unaccompanied.

Washington has said the move aims to prevent migrant children from going missing in the system, but that immigration advocates say it will discourage parents from claiming their children for fear of detention and deportation.

“We’re going to more thoroughly vet sponsors,” said Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Children and Families, in a telephone briefing with reporters. “With DHS’ cooperation we will conduct a fingerprint-based background check on every sponsor.”

HHS is ultimately responsible for finding housing for migrant children, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) enforces immigration policy. Under a new memorandum, DHS would help HHS fingerprint every individual claiming custody of a child, senior officials said.

Currently, parents are not required to submit fingerprints to obtain custody of their children. Under the new protocol, to be implemented in a few weeks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will assist the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in fingerprinting every parent who claims custody.

Federal laws stipulate that unaccompanied immigrant children cannot be incarcerated. Instead, HHS houses them in federal shelters until the minors are placed with sponsors, typically close relatives such as parents or siblings.

During a Senate committee hearing last month, Wagner said that HHS lost track of 1,475 children who crossed the United States-Mexico border unaccompanied and were placed with adult sponsors. The agency blamed a limited budget for its inability to track the children. A 2016 investigation by The Associated Press found that two dozen children placed in homes had been sexually assaulted or forced to work for little pay.

“You are the worst foster parents in the world. You don’t even know where they are,” Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said in a followup hearing. “We are failing. I don’t think there is any doubt about it.”

But immigration advocates say the directive announced yesterday by DHS will discourage parents from claiming custody of their children. 

“This policy will undoubtedly make it more likely that qualified sponsors will hide in the shadows, leaving vulnerable young children to languish in immigration jail,” Rich Leimsider, executive director of the Safe Passage Project, told Reuters.