The U.S. government placed thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children in the homes of sponsors in 2017, and now has admitted that it can’t account for nearly 1,500 of them. And according to a top official the government “is not legally responsible for children” once they are placed in a home.
Steven Wagner of the Department of Health and Human Services, disclosed the number to a Senate subcommittee last month while testifying about the current status of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) that oversees the care of unaccompanied immigrant children.
Wagner is the acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. ORR is a program of the Administration for Children and Families that is in charge of dealing with immigrant children.
CNN reported earlier that Wagner testified that during the last three months of 2017 alone, the ORR “lost track” of nearly 1,500 immigrant children it had placed in the homes of sponsors under the ORR’s program of finding homes for unaccompanied children.
Wagner’s testimony has attracted a great deal of media attention since it was reported that immigrant children are being separated from their parents as they cross the US border with Mexico.
Yesterday President Donald Trump said that Democrats are responsible for “the horrible law that separates children from their parents once they cross the Border into the U.S.”
Assistant Secretary Wagner said the Department of Homeland Security referred more than 40,000 unaccompanied immigrant children to the ORR during the 2017 fiscal year.
According to Wagner, after staying in an ORR shelter most children are sent to live with sponsors who have been shown to have some ties to the children,typically a relative.
Wagner admitted, however, that many children end up living with “other-than-close relatives or non-relatives.” There has been speculation that such children have been abused or even used as part of child-trafficking rings.
Between October and December 2017 the ORR reached out to 7,635 unaccompanied children to update their status. But according to Wagner the ORR “was unable to determine with certainty the whereabouts of 1,475 children.” An additional 28 had run away. That’s more than 19% of the children that were placed by the ORR.
In shocking testimony, Wagner said HHS is not responsible for the children.
“I understand that it has been HHS’s long-standing interpretation of the law that ORR is not legally responsible for children after they are released from ORR care,” he said.
The office is “taking a fresh look at that question,” he added. But if the ORR were to be legally responsible for unaccompanied immigrant children, it would need more resources.
This latest revelation is just one more example of the cruelty of the Trump administration in dealing with immigrants and vulnerable members of society.