Report: White House sought to embed ICE agents at HHS

On Behalf of | Dec 24, 2019 | US Immigration Law

The Washington Post reports senior White House officials tried to plant Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) targeting parents and relatives of migrant children for deportation.

The newspaper says HHS, which oversees the care of unaccompanied migrant children, rejected the offer but still agreed to let ICE agents collect fingerprints and other biometric data from adults who attempt to claim migrant children from government shelters.

Plan targets ineligible adults

The Post says the plan, developed by senior immigration adviser Stephen Miller, is meant to arrest and deport adults who are deemed ineligible to take custody of children.

However, the agreement appears to sidestep U.S. laws that prohibit the refugee program from being used as a vehicle for deportation enforcement.

Opponents say potential sponsors face an impossible choice

The Trump administration has sought greater access to the refugee program by ICE, claiming that HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement is exploited by smugglers hired by parents to illegally bring their children into the United States.

Many in Congress have vigorously opposed giving ICE more access, saying it forces migrant parents to choose between reuniting with their children and a higher risk of being arrested. The administration responds that agents are focusing on finding adults with criminal violations.

Previous attempts led to increased numbers of unaccompanied children

Democrats included language in the 2019 funding bill prohibiting child sponsor data from being shared between ICE and the Department of Homeland Security after a previous effort led to higher numbers of migrant children in U.S. custody after fewer potential sponsors came forward.

The Post reports that HHS officials have tried to keep ICE agents from receiving personal information on sponsors, with the agency claiming its primary focus is to safeguard migrant children and not to help another agency arrest and deport relatives.