ICE to use mi­grant chil­dren data

White House aide de­vel­oped plan for de­port­ing adults

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Nick Miroff

WASH­ING­TON — The White House sought this month to em­bed im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment agents within the U.S. refugee agency that cares for un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­grant chil­dren, part of a long-stand­ing ef­fort to use in­for­ma­tion from their par­ents and rel­a­tives to tar­get them for de­por­ta­tion, ac­cord­ing to six cur­rent and former ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials.

Though se­nior of­fi­cials at the De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man

Ser­vices re­jected the at­tempt, they agreed to al­low Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agents to col­lect fin­ger­prints and other bio­met­ric in­for­ma­tion from adults seek­ing to claim mi­grant chil­dren at gov­ern­ment shel­ters. If those adults are deemed in­el­i­gi­ble to take cus­tody of chil­dren, ICE could then use their in­for­ma­tion to tar­get them for ar­rest and de­por­ta­tion.

The ar­range­ment ap­pears to cir­cum­vent laws that re­strict the use of the refugee pro­gram for de­por­ta­tion en­force­ment; Congress has made clear it does not want those who come for­ward as po­ten­tial spon­sors of mi­nors in U.S. cus­tody to be fright­ened away by pos­si­ble de­por­ta­tion. But, in the rea­son­ing of se­nior Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials, adults de­nied cus­tody of chil­dren lose their sta­tus as “po­ten­tial spon­sors” and are fair game for ar­rest.

The plan has not been an­nounced pub­licly.

It was de­vel­oped by Stephen Miller, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s top im­mi­gra­tion ad­viser, who has long ar­gued that HHS’s Of­fice of Refugee Re­set­tle­ment is be­ing ex­ploited by par­ents who hire smug­glers to bring their chil­dren into the United States il­le­gally.

The agency man­ages shel­ters that care for un­der­age mi­grants who cross the bor­der with­out a par­ent and tries to iden­tify spon­sors — typ­i­cally fam­ily mem­bers —

el­i­gi­ble to take cus­tody of the mi­nors.

Pre­vi­ous Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion at­tempts to give ICE more ac­cess to the refugee pro­gram have gen­er­ated sig­nif­i­cant op­po­si­tion, be­cause it po­ten­tially forces mi­grant par­ents to choose be­tween re­claim­ing their chil­dren and risk­ing ar­rest. Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edge the ar­range­ment will in­still fear among mi­grant par­ents, but they say it will de­ter fam­i­lies from hav­ing their chil­dren cross into the United States il­le­gally.

Of­fi­cials at ICE and HHS said the in­for­ma­tion shared with en­force­ment agents pri­mar­ily would be used to screen adults for crim­i­nal vi­o­la­tions and other “red flags,” and that it would not be fo­cused on cap­tur­ing par­ents and rel­a­tives who come for­ward to claim what the gov­ern­ment calls “un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren.”

Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman, said his agency will help HHS en­sure that chil­dren are not placed with spon­sors un­til the spon­sors have been thor­oughly vet­ted, a re­view process that in­cludes us­ing bio­met­ric data. Cox said his agency has more-pow­er­ful screen­ing tools at its dis­posal than HHS has, “in­clud­ing bet­ter ca­pa­bil­i­ties to iden­tify fraud­u­lent doc­u­ments or doc­u­ments ob­tained by fraud.”

Af­ter the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion be­gan a sim­i­lar in­for­ma­tion-shar­ing ini­tia­tive last year, which pre­dictably led to fewer spon­sors com­ing for­ward and cre­ated a mas­sive back­log of chil­dren in U.S. cus­tody, Democrats fought to put a fire­wall be­tween ICE and ORR.

Ac­cord­ing to those pro­vi­sions, no fed­eral funds “may be used by the Sec­re­tary of Home­land Se­cu­rity to place in de­ten­tion, re­move, re­fer for a de­ci­sion whether to ini­ti­ate re­moval pro­ceed­ings, or ini­ti­ate re­moval pro­ceed­ings against a spon­sor, po­ten­tial spon­sor, or mem­ber of a house­hold of a spon­sor or po­ten­tial spon­sor of an un­ac­com­pa­nied alien child.”

HHS of­fi­cials have gen­er­ally tried to keep ICE at a dis­tance, in­sist­ing that their agency’s mis­sion is to safe­guard chil­dren and not to fa­cil­i­tate the ar­rest of their rel­a­tives.

Cox de­fended the le­gal­ity of the pro­gram, cit­ing the tech­ni­cal word­ing of the law: When a po­ten­tial spon­sor’s ap­pli­ca­tion is re­jected, “that in­di­vid­ual is no longer con­sid­ered to be a spon­sor or po­ten­tial spon­sor” and is there­fore open to ICE ar­rest, he said.

While ac­knowl­edg­ing the pro­gram could leave chil­dren in gov­ern­ment cus­tody for longer pe­ri­ods, Cox said bet­ter screen­ing “should take prece­dence over speed of place­ment to what may ul­ti­mately be an un­safe en­vi­ron­ment for the child.”

Three of­fi­cials fa­mil­iar with Miller’s plan said it was part of his broader ef­fort to chip away at con­gres­sion­ally man­dated bar­ri­ers be­tween ICE and the refugee pro­gram.

The White House did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

ALEX WONG/GETTY 2017

Im­mi­gra­tion ad­viser Stephen Miller has long ar­gued that the HHS Of­fice of Refugee Re­set­tle­ment is be­ing ex­ploited.

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