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 ThompsonHillicon Valley: Trump turns up heat on Apple over gunman's phone | Mnuchin says Huawei won't be 'chess piece' in trade talks | Dems seek briefing on Iranian cyber threats | Buttigieg loses cyber chief House Democrats request briefings on Iranian cyber threats from DHS, FCC Democrats sound election security alarm after Russia's Burisma hack MORE (D-Miss.) and signed by House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerNadler calls Trump a 'dictator' on Senate floor Poll: Majority think Senate should call witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Susan Collins asked Justice Roberts to intervene after Nadler late-night 'cover-up' accusation MORE (D-N.Y.), House Appropriations Chairman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyMixed feelings on war power limits: Lawmakers and vet candidates US officials, world leaders arrive in Israel for World Holocaust Forum  House revives agenda after impeachment storm MORE (D-N.Y.), and Reps. Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardLA Mayor Eric Garcetti endorses Biden Even in a time of impeachment, health care is on the agenda ICE emerges as stumbling block in government funding talks MORE (D-Calif.) and Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroSome kids will spend Christmas in border cages On The Money: House approves Trump USMCA deal in bipartisan vote | Senate sends .4T spending bill to Trump's desk | Why budget watchdogs are howling over the spending deal House approves Trump's USMCA trade deal amid shadow of impeachment 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. 


“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.”