Trump Administration Ditches Fingerprint Policy That Keeps Migrant Kids Locked Up

The tactic put sponsors and their family members at risk of deportation.

Department of Health and Human Services/AP

In a break with its previous policy, the Trump administration announced Tuesday it would again change the way it screens potential sponsors for undocumented children held by the government. The move paves the way for some of the thousands of unaccompanied migrant kids in government detention to be released into the care of family members.

Under the earlier policy, instituted in June, all adult members of a potential sponsor’s household were required to undergo fingerprinting. Those records were shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which used the information to arrest 170 undocumented people—many of whom had no criminal record—who had volunteered to sponsor minors.

As Mother Jones reported in November, that move discouraged people from sponsoring so-called unaccompanied alien children—those who show up at the border without an adult guardian. The number of UACs held in federal custody has risen from about 9,000 when the fingerprint policy was adopted to roughly 15,000 today.

Under the new plan, only the potential sponsor will be fingerprinted.

“Since the implementation of this new policy five months ago, [the Office of Refugee Resettlement] has determined the additional steps required to fingerprint all household members has had an impact on the timely release of UAC without demonstrated benefit to the safety of children after their release from ORR care,” said the Department of Health and Human Services in a statement Tuesday, Texas Monthly reported.

The policy change may be a response to a request by the contractor that runs the Tornillo tent camp in El Paso County, Texas. The facility (which the HHS inspector general criticized last month for “serious safety and health vulnerabilities”) was built this year to accommodate the explosion of young migrants being held. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) said Saturday that the company, BCFS Health and Human Services, was considering ending its contract with the government unless the policy was changed.

Early Tuesday, before the government’s announcement, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) tweeted that BCFS had no plan to renew its contract at year’s end.

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