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CHC Questions DHS Effort to Target Parents of Unaccompanied Children

Jul 7, 2017
Press Release
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) Chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Members of the CHC sent a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kelly asking for clarification and details about reports that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are targeting and criminally charging parents and sponsors of unaccompanied children.
 
As stated in the letter, “We applaud efforts to target, make arrests and bring down these [human smuggling] criminal organizations. However, targeting family-member sponsors that seek to protect children escaping violence and abuse is completely unacceptable, reprehensible and will create a culture of fear and lack of cooperation among this vulnerable community.”
 
Nearly 170,000 unaccompanied children have been released to sponsors across the U.S. since October 2013, according to the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.
 
The letter was signed by: Michelle Lujan Grisham, CHC Chairwoman; Joaquin Castro, CHC First Vice Chair; Ruben Gallego, CHC Second Vice Chair; Pete Aguilar, CHC Whip; Adriano Espaillat, CHC Freshman Representative; Luis V Gutiérrez, CHC Immigration and Border Issues Task Force Chair; Norma Torres, CHC Latin America and Foreign Affairs Task Force Chair.
 
COPY OF LETTER
 
July 7, 2017
 
The Honorable John F. Kelly
Secretary of Homeland Security
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
 
Dear Secretary Kelly,
 
We are alarmed by reports that the Trump Administration is targeting and criminally charging parents and family-member sponsors of unaccompanied children. It is our understanding that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have begun sharing information about unaccompanied children’s parents, caregivers or sponsors for the purposes of criminal and immigration enforcement actions.
 
According to news reports, ICE officials have confirmed that parents or sponsors are being targeted as part of an initiative focused on disrupting and dismantling human smuggling operations. We applaud efforts to target, make arrests and bring down these criminal organizations. However, targeting family-member sponsors that seek to protect children escaping violence and abuse is completely unacceptable, reprehensible and will create a culture of fear and lack of cooperation among this vulnerable community. Furthermore, family reunification, a cornerstone of basic child welfare principles, should not be used as a weapon against these children seeking protection.  Reports indicate that individuals in Texas, Virginia, and New Jersey have been arrested.
 
The vast majority of these children are fleeing dangerous and life-threatening conditions in their home countries. As a result, many children are forced to make the dangerous trek to the United States to escape gang violence and even possible death.  It is alarming that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may now be equating these families trying to protect vulnerable children with criminals engaged in human smuggling.
 
The mission of DHS is to ensure the safety and security of the homeland.  Targeting parents and family members of vulnerable children for questioning and detention in no way advances this mission.  Indeed, this policy will only create unease and panic, and separate families for extended periods of time, which may violate the Flores Settlement Agreement. 
 
While ICE disclosed this new enforcement initiative last week, details are scarce. It is imperative that DHS respond to the following questions in writing by July 14, 2017:
  1. How long has this new policy been in place?  Is this a written policy?  If so, please share the document.
  2. What is the protocol to determine which sponsors will be targeted?
  3. Does DHS have access to the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Unaccompanied Alien Children Portal?  If so, what agencies within DHS have access to this information?  How do these agencies use this information?  Is this information shared with the DOJ for criminal prosecution purposes?
  4. It has been reported that ICE agents will arrest sponsors of children who have paid smuggling entities. What criminal charges have been levied on these individuals? How many of these individuals have legal representation?
  5. How many sponsors have been arrested and are currently being held? Of these sponsors, how many are being held in family detention? Are any of them being held together with their children?
  6. Have any sponsors been deported? If so, how many and to what countries have they been deported to?
  7. Of the parents or sponsors who have been detained as part of these actions, how many have indicated a fear of return, and if so, how is the department handling their cases?
  8. If a sponsor is detained, where are the unaccompanied children and other children in home being placed? Have any children been placed in state run foster care programs? Have any children been returned to ORR custody? how is this affecting ORR’s overall population of children in its care? What is the average stay of children in ORR custody, and has that gone up as part of this operation?
  9. How many children have been impacted? 
  10. What are you doing to ensure compliance with the Flores Settlement Agreement?
  11. How many people have been criminally charged?  Have any been sent to the Bureau of Prisons or U.S. Marshalls custody?
 
For decades the U.S. has had a longstanding history of welcoming refugees and immigrants. We have been a beacon of hope for individuals fleeing dangerous and violent conditions. Many of DHS’s most recent policies and actions run in stark contrast to our nation’s history and values. We must continue to protect vulnerable children and families and utilize our limited resources to target and dismantle actual human smuggling organizations rather than going after the innocent parents and family members of helpless children. We demand that DHS immediately stop any current or planned operations targeting parents or family-member sponsors of unaccompanied children.
 
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
 
 
Sincerely,
 
 
# # #
 
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), founded in December 1976, is organized as a Congressional Member organization, governed under the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives. The CHC is dedicated to voicing and advancing, through the legislative process, issues affecting Hispanics in the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. Territories.