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DHS-HHS Information Sharing and ICE Enforcement Against Potential Sponsors of Detained Children: A Resource Page

This resource page is intended to provide journalists, policy-makers, and the public with information about the information-sharing between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Health and Human Services (HHS).

Published: December 6, 2018


Background on the DHS-HHS Information Sharing and Enforcement Practices:

What are DHS and HHS doing with respect to immigrant children?

Under a binding court settlement from the 1997 case Flores v. Reno, and subsequent federal legislation, the federal government is supposed to release children detained for immigration reasons as soon as practicable. In order to release the children, the government—specifically the Office of Refugee and Resettlement Services (ORR) within HHS—must identify a suitable sponsor, including conducting background checks on family members who come forward to sponsor children. Under an April 2018 agreement (which took effect in May) that formalized a practice begun in the summer of 2017, ORR started sharing the information it obtained from potential sponsors with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has used the information to arrest and deport potential sponsors who are alleged to be in the United States without proper documentation.

In addition, the government has begun collecting far more extensive information regarding potential sponsors than it was previously. DHS took over collecting fingerprints from HHS, and began collecting fingerprints of all adult household members of sponsors. DHS then issued a federal register notice explicitly allowing ICE to use this information for enforcement purposes.  

What’s wrong with the new policy?

The Flores settlement and federal law obligate HHS to act in the best interests of the immigrant children in their care. The current practice flips this mandate on its head: because otherwise suitable sponsors are now targeted for arrest and deportation, children remain in detention for longer rather than being placed with family members. In addition, some children are traumatized by knowing that their desire to find a home has led to a family member’s detention – or, conversely, children may refuse to cooperate at all with authorities, leading to a longer stay in subpar detention facilities as well.

What should be done?

Congress should conduct oversight hearings, press DHS and HHS to end these practices, and pass legislation prohibiting these practices. Two bills have already been introduced that would substantially limit or end these practices: the Prevent CHILD Harm Act of 2018, introduced by Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and the Families, not Facilities Act of 2018, introduced by Sens. Wyden and Harris.



DHS-HHS Documents:

Coalition Letter Opposing DHS-HHS Information Sharing and Enforcement Practices:

Related Opposition Letters and Statements:

Related lawsuits:

Proposed Legislation:

Press and Commentary:

Additional Resources on Child Detention and Immigration Enforcement Against Sponsors: