By Luis Bravo
According to a new report released on May 7 by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), undocumented parents who try to reunite with their children who have crossed the border unaccompanied can face deportation under a new proposal.
DHS will soon be able to verify the immigration status of all potential sponsors of children arriving unaccompanied to the US border, as well as an adult member of the potential home of the sponsor. The new proposal to expand research will likely have a cooling effect on immigrant communities, leading unaccompanied children to languish in shelters or foster homes and, ultimately, preventing family reunification.
When non-citizen children arrive at the US border without the company of an adult, they are placed under the care and custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which has a network of shelters throughout the United States. HHS identifies parents or other family members to sponsor and care for the child while continuing the immigration process. When an appropriate sponsor cannot be located, the child can be placed under foster care.
The proposed change would expand current investigation procedures to include a review of the immigration status of a sponsor by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This change will discourage parents and family members from coming to claim these children. They will face the impossible option of leaving their child in a shelter or foster care, or risk deportation when meeting him or her.
Under the current process, potential sponsors are already being investigated to ensure that they can provide a safe home environment and that they have the financial means to support the child. They undergo criminal background checks, check their identity and relationship with the child, and disclose if someone else in the home has been convicted of a crime or accused of negligence, physical or sexual abuse or neglect of a minor.
The proposed rule, published in the Federal Register, follows a new information exchange agreement between DHS and HHS (HHS houses the agency responsible for the care and custody of unaccompanied children). The agreement was first raised during a congressional oversight hearing at the end of April, citing the potential harms that unaccompanied children face after being released from HHS custody and the need for better communication between the two agencies.
A critical piece of this puzzle, although often forgotten, are the reasons why these children are making the uncertain trip to the United States in the first place.
Increasingly, these children are from Central America, where gangs and cartels have wreaked havoc on communities. Many young children face life-threatening risks if they cross these groups, resist recruitment or refuse to become “gang-girlfriends”.
Thousands of children have no choice but to seek refuge in the United States, where many of their parents emigrated to seek work or security in past years.
Addressing the sponsors of unaccompanied children is not new. Last summer, ICE took more than 400 sponsors into custody, alleging that many were guilty of smuggling their children to the United States.
The defenders criticized the operation and said that the children were treated as tools to attack and potentially deport their loved ones.
The Trump administration is so intensely focused on deterring all migration on the southern border that punitive measures are being taken that overlook the protection needs of vulnerable populations and cause profound harm to children’s well-being.
Preserving and celebrating the family unit was once a universal value and an indisputable foundation of our immigration system.
Proposals like these clearly challenge that value.