Au­dit: HHS keep­ing tabs on ’14 surge il­le­gal mi­nors

Chil­dren placed in safe cir­cum­stances in U.S.

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Af­ter a rough start, fed­eral so­cial work­ers are now do­ing a bet­ter job of keep­ing tabs on the il­le­gal im­mi­grant chil­dren un­der their care from the Obama-era bor­der surge, in­clud­ing making ef­forts to follow up with the chil­dren and their spon­sors to make sure they’re be­ing treated well, ac­cord­ing to a gov­ern­ment au­dit re­leased Thurs­day.

The gov­ern­ment still missed fol­low­ing up in about 11 per­cent of cases, leav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant hole in pro­tec­tions.

But the gov­ern­ment did con­nect with spon­sors in 89 per­cent of cases and with chil­dren 84 per­cent of the time, and re­ports of abuse, ne­glect, aban­don­ment or run­aways were rel­a­tively rare, ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices’ in­spec­tor gen­eral.

“HHS has im­proved its co­or­di­na­tion with DHS and in­creased its ef­forts to pro­mote the safety and well-be­ing of UAC af­ter their re­lease from HHS cus­tody,” in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­cluded.

The re­port was prompted by the height of the im­mi­gra­tion surge in 2014, when 10,000 un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren (UAC) were be­ing nabbed at the bor­der each month. Un­der Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in­ter­pre­ta­tions of fed­eral law, the chil­dren were gen­er­ally turned over to spon­sors or fam­ily — in­clud­ing il­le­gal im­mi­grant par­ents — as quickly as pos­si­ble.

That sparked fears that HHS, the depart­ment charged with find­ing spon­sors, was cut­ting cor­ners and po­ten­tially leav­ing the chil­dren in un­safe con­di­tions. One crim­i­nal case was even brought against hu­man traf­fick­ers us­ing UAC for forced la­bor.

But the new re­port found that HHS made de­cent ef­forts to follow up on the chil­dren that passed through their cus­tody and were even­tu­ally placed with spon­sors.

Of 52,147 chil­dren re­leased in 2016, HHS deemed 10,546 of them in need of full follow-up case man­age­ment ser­vices, ei­ther be­cause of pre­vi­ous abuse or be­cause they were 12 years of age or younger and were sent to live with a non­rel­a­tive.

Of those, 89 cases were re­ported to child pro­tec­tive ser­vices for po­ten­tial prob­lems.

Au­di­tors re­viewed a sub­set of chil­dren who came through HHS cus­tody in 2016 and found the depart­ment was able to con­tact spon­sors for a follow-up check in 89 per­cent of the cases and made con­tact with the chil­dren them­selves 84 per­cent of the time.

Those follow-ups led to 36 chil­dren be­ing flagged for lo­cal in­ves­tiga­tive agen­cies, in­clud­ing 22 run­aways, five chil­dren who weren’t in school, three al­le­ga­tions of ne­glect or aban­don­ment, two al­le­ga­tions of hu­man traf­fick­ing and one sex­ual abuse case.

HHS also launched a hot­line for re­ports of sex­ual abuse, and 10 cases were re­ported dur­ing the six­month pe­riod au­di­tors stud­ied in 2016.

HHS didn’t pro­vide com­ment in time for this ar­ti­cle.

The UAC surge ex­posed ma­jor holes in U.S. im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion strug­gling to send a mes­sage to Cen­tral Amer­i­cans not to at­tempt the dan­ger­ous jour­ney, which saw chil­dren beaten, robbed, hurt in ac­ci­dents and raped dur­ing the trip. Rape was so much a part of the trip that ex­perts said young girls would even start tak­ing birth con­trol pills ahead of the jour­ney to avoid preg­nancy.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has pur­sued a stiffer pol­icy to­ward those who came dur­ing the surge, with a tar­geted ac­tion last month to ar­rest and de­port 120 UAC and 73 peo­ple who came as fam­i­lies.

Each of them had been or­dered de­ported but were de­fy­ing the order.

The UAC tar­geted for de­por­ta­tion had ei­ther aged out of pro­tec­tions, hav­ing reached age 18, or were at least 16 and had crim­i­nal records or sus­pected gang ties.

“Il­le­gally en­ter­ing the United States as a fam­ily unit or UAC does not pro­tect in­di­vid­u­als from be­ing sub­ject to the im­mi­gra­tion laws of this coun­try,” said Thomas Ho­man, act­ing di­rec­tor of U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment. “I urge any­one con­sid­er­ing making the dan­ger­ous and un­law­ful jour­ney to the United States: Please do not take this risk.”

Im­mi­grant rights ad­vo­cates, how­ever, crit­i­cized the ar­rests, as­sert­ing that the chil­dren had “fled vi­o­lence in Cen­tral Amer­ica” and should be treated as refugees.

“The Statue of Lib­erty weeps to­day,” said Frank Sharry, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Amer­ica’s Voice.

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