HHS Clarifies ‘Missing Immigrant Children’ Situation, Claims Children Not ‘Lost’

The Trump administration has come under fire for allegedly losing 1,500 undocumented immigrant children after placing them with sponsors in the United States. Now, a Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) official is claiming that the children were never lost. Instead, there has been a miscommunication.

According to DHHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan, the missing children mix-up was the result of sponsors not responding to follow-up calls from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). However, DHHS claims that the calls were not mandatory and that the custodians may be intentionally avoiding federal authorities for their own reasons. Regarding the situation, Hargan noted: “This is a classic example of the adage ‘No good deed goes unpunished.'”

The DHHS has come under fire for its handling of undocumented migrant children. Illegally migrating adults who are facing criminal charges for their actions are often held in custody. As a result, the children are unable to stay with the adults and thus must either be held in custody elsewhere or placed with families.

Hargan went on to further state, “This is the core of this issue: In many cases, DHHS has been put in the position of placing illegal aliens with the individuals who helped arrange for them to enter the country illegally. This makes the immediate crisis worse and creates a perverse incentive for further violation of federal immigration law.”

Hargan explained that in many cases the children were being passed to undocumented migrants already in the United States. It seems quite likely and sensible that such families and individuals would not want to maintain close ties with the federal government. Other reasons, including simply being busy, might also explain the lack of communication.

The entire process of separating families at the border has been criticized. Under current policies, families caught trying to illegally migrate into the United States are often separated, with the children forwarded on to families already residing in America. Many believe it would be better for the immigrating families to remain intact.

Yet, the Trump administration is implementing a “zero tolerance” policy that will see more families separated going forward. Under the policy, adults will be prosecuted while children are taken into custody by DHHS. The administration believes this will deter people from smuggling children over the border.

To further complicate matters, DHHS claims that it is not responsible for children once they are placed. There have been several accusations that children have been placed with people who are known to be human traffickers. In one case, eight children were placed with an alleged human trafficker and then forced to work on an egg farm.

As for DHHS, the agency already has a lot on its plate and resources can be scarce. In an effort to promote the well-being of undocumented children, DHHS had been placing the children with families and foster parents in the United States. It could be that they may not be the right department, and indeed there may not be a “right” authority to handle this issue.

Proponents of the Trump administration claim that undocumented migrants are abusing the Unaccompanied Alien Children program. Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary for DHHS’ Administration for Children and Families, noted that the program was “Never intended to be a foster care system with more than 10,000 children in custody at an immediate cost to the federal taxpayer of over one billion dollars per year.”

President Trump has blamed Democrats for the separation of families. According to Trump via Twitter, it is the “horrible law” pushed by Democrats that is forcing the administration to separate families. An administration official later clarified that Trump was referring to the alleged open borders policies supported by Democrats.

However, given the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, it is hard to lay blame at someone else’s feet, even if you agree with the policy. The recent misplaced children issue is a small part of a much larger problem that doesn’t seem to have an easy solution in sight.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Brian Brinker

Brian Brinker is a political consultant and has an M.A in Global Affairs from American University.

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