(Reuters) - The Trump administration is reversing a controversial policy that required extensive background checks of all adults living with sponsors of migrant children, in a move that could lead to faster release of migrant minors from shelters.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which cares for children who cross the border alone, said on Tuesday the policy of fingerprinting all adults living with the sponsors enacted in June had increased the time children were in government custody without turning up more red flags. The number of immigrant children in government-run shelters has ballooned to a record 14,700 as of Dec. 17, according to HHS.
U.S. laws limit the time migrant juveniles can be detained, so those caught crossing the border without a parent or legal guardian are often released to adult sponsors in the United States. The children are then expected to show up to immigration court to fight their deportation cases.
"The children should be home with their parents. The government makes lousy parents," said Lynn Johnson, Assistant Secretary at Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families told NPR. "We're finding it (the extra screening) is not adding anything to the protection or the safety of the children," she added.
Advocates have pointed to delays in fingerprint processing as a reason so many children are currently in U.S. government custody. Another reason, they say, is that information about potential sponsors is now shared with the Department of Homeland Security, which enforces immigration law. That is scaring relatives from coming forward to claim the children, they say.
From now on, only the sponsors themselves will be fingerprinted.
Last week, DHS' Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said about 80 percent of potential sponsors that they conducted checks on in the five months to late November were in the United States unlawfully. ICE said the data sharing had led to 170 arrests.
(Reporting by Kristina Cooke and Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by James Dalgleish)