The Trump administration has reversed a controversial policy it implemented in June, which led to longer detention times for migrant children throughout the U.S. — including in Maryland, where a boy spent four months in a shelter as he waited for his case to be cleared.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced on Dec. 18 that it will no longer require information and fingerprints from all adult members of a potential sponsor’s household as part of the application for a person to care for an unaccompanied minor.
HHS said in a statement that since the policy took effect they had not identified new child welfare risks with the additional information they were collecting.
“In addition, the time which all household members take to submit fingerprints affects the length of care for” unaccompanied minors, the statement read.
While the administration said the measure was put in place to ensure the safety of the unaccompanied minors, immigration attorneys argued this was a way to target undocumented people who came forward in the sponsorship process.
The stricter screenings of potential sponsors and all adults living in the household was part of an April agreement between the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the part of HHS that oversees the care of migrant children, to share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The policy received major backlash from nonprofits that work with immigrants and lawyers who said that the new measures meant a longer application process, adding to the time children were detained and ultimately affecting the children’s mental health.
A Guatemalan woman living in Baltimore who wanted to sponsor her nephew’s son was forced to move from her shared apartment when her roommate opted out of submitting his fingerprints.
After going through the additional requirements, the woman was finally allowed to take the 16-year-old in, according to a source familiar with the case.
He was released on Dec. 20 — four months after he was initially detained in August, and two months longer than the average length of care for unaccompanied children in ORR shelters.
In Baltimore, Esperanza Center’s family reunification program saw the policy’s effects on families seeking to sponsor children first-hand.
Eric Seymour, a client services manager, at Esperanza Center, said the reversal of the policy will have a significant impact on the work they do.
“Many of the families that we work with live with multiple families or multiple adults that are not the parents or sponsors of the child in question, [so] the requirement to fingerprint every adult in the home can be a significant hindrance to the reunification process,” said Seymour.
DHS declined to comment on the number of children who could possibly be released due to the policy reversal.
This policy reversal comes at a time where national concern has mounted following the deaths of two migrant children under U.S. custody.
Sponsors will still be required to undergo the stringent background checks and submit their fingerprints — information that will continue to be shared with ICE.