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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: