Top Democrats call for administration to rescind child migrant information sharing policy

Top Democrats call for administration to rescind child migrant information sharing policy
© Greg Nash

A group of Democratic House committee and subcommittee chairs are calling on the Trump administration to revoke a policy that requires information on sponsors of undocumented immigrant children to be shared between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), citing concerns the information is being used to deport members of migrant minors’ families that are in the U.S. illegally.

In a letter — written by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonPelosi asks Democrats for 'leverage' on impeachment DHS cyber agency to prioritize election security, Chinese threats Trump officials unveil rule allowing indefinite migrant family detentions MORE (D-Miss.) and signed by House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerPoll: Majority wants Trump out, but not through impeachment Second Democrat representing Trump district backs impeachment GOP memo deflects some gun questions to 'violence from the left' MORE (D-N.Y.), House Appropriations Chairman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyWhite House won't move forward with billions in foreign aid cuts Pelosi warns Mnuchin to stop 'illegal' .3B cut to foreign aid Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid MORE (D-N.Y.), and Reps. Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardMigrants in US border detention centers won't receive flu vaccine DHS wants to shift money to immigration enforcement: report Latina leaders: 'It's a women's world more than anything' MORE (D-Calif.) and Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroMigrants in US border detention centers won't receive flu vaccine Lawmakers point to entitlements when asked about deficits House bill would make World Cup funds contingent on equal pay MORE (D-Conn.) — sent to HHS Secretary Alex Azar and DHS acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Wednesday, the lawmakers said they believe the policy leads to “cruel outcomes” and is unnecessary for security purposes. 

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“Historically, your Departments have not used information obtained from detained children—or families who seek to care for them—to target individuals for deportation. The May 2018 MOA [memorandum of agreement] between the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), breaks with history by mandating a continuous sharing of information on unaccompanied children in government custody,” they wrote

“With no limits on how this information can be used, the process for ensuring the safe placement of children could be weaponized as a tool for immigration enforcement," they wrote.

The members noted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents used the data to “arrest approximately 170 prospective sponsors,” which they argue could lead to a smaller pool of sponsors and exacerbate the issue of overcrowded detention facilities. 

“These arrests have had a chilling effect and deterred other individuals from coming forward to sponsor children,” they wrote.

“With unprecedented numbers of children in government custody, these circumstances have led to children being held in CBP facilities well beyond the allowable 72 hours and in appalling conditions. ORR is also increasingly reliant on so-called 'influx' or 'emergency' facilities that lack the protections of state-licensed shelters,” they continued. “Moreover, these temporary shelters cost at least three times more than licensed shelters, resulting in ORR funding being depleted faster.”  

The group notes the 2019 DHS Appropriations Act bars DHS from information sharing, adding there is similar language in the fiscal 2019 Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Humanitarian Assistance and Security at the Southern Border Act.

“However, this congressional prohibition alone is insufficient assurance for potential sponsors that taking in a family member will not later be used against them," they wrote. "DHS’ insertion into ORR’s sponsorship process does nothing to assist in the placement of children to safe homes and only hinders ORR’s ability to respond to the surging numbers of unaccompanied children at the border.

“For these reasons, we urge you to rescind the information sharing MOA immediately. Thank you in advance for your timely consideration of this matter.”