HHS expands protections for unaccompanied children immigrants

The Obama administration is taking steps to better protect the tens of thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children who cross the border each year.

In response to the influx of Central American children immigrating to the U.S. over the last year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says it has increased the number of doctors available to treat these unaccompanied minors and is on the lookout to protect them from child predators and other dangerous situations once they arrive.

These developments come in advance of a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday to examine the federal government’s response to the influx of children immigrants.

At the hearing, officials from HHS, the Justice Department, and the Department of Homeland Security will testify about the federal government’s response to what’s being called a “humanitarian crisis.”

Mark Greenberg, acting assistant secretary of HHS, will talk about the steps his agency has taken to improve the safety of these children who enter the country on their own.

“The safety and well-being of every child in our care is a priority,” HHS noted in a fact sheet about the unaccompanied minors. “We generally release the child to a parent if possible, but if it’s not, to a relative, family friend, or other responsible adult.”

In many cases, after immigration officials detain these unaccompanied minors, they are eventually released to U.S. families who care for them during their deportation proceedings.

HHS is responsible for screening these families to make sure they will provide a safe environment for the children. In 2014, the agency released 53,518 unaccompanied minors to these families.

Since then, HHS has expanded a hotline that these unaccompanied minors can call to report problems with the families they are placed with.

HHS is now also requiring these families to go through not just a criminal background check, but also a check for child abuse and neglect. 

HHS has also increased the medical staff and lawyers available to work with these children.