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 ThompsonSenators urge Trump to fill vacancies at DHS Hillicon Valley: TikTok faces lawmaker anger over China ties | FCC formally approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Silicon Valley lawmakers introduce tough privacy bill | AT&T in M settlement with FTC Cyber officials tout reforms with one year to Election Day MORE (D-Miss.) and signed by House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse to vote on bill to ensure citizenship for children of overseas service members As impeachment goes public, forget 'conventional wisdom' What this 'impeachment' is really about — and it's not the Constitution MORE (D-N.Y.), House Appropriations Chairman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyCongress hunts for path out of spending stalemate This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry CR discussions veer toward December: Shelby MORE (D-N.Y.), and Reps. Lucille Roybal-AllardLucille Roybal-AllardHispanic Caucus dedicates Day of the Dead altar to migrants who died in US custody Trump faces serious crunch in search for new Homeland Security leader Synagogues ramp up security in year since Tree of Life shooting MORE (D-Calif.) and Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroOn The Money: Senate passes first spending package as shutdown looms | Treasury moves to roll back Obama rules on offshore tax deals | Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm Trade deal talks manage to weather Trump impeachment storm House Democrats launch process to replace Cummings on Oversight panel 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.”