House Democratic Leaders Call on HHS Watchdog to Investigate Reports ICE is Preventing Reunification Efforts and Deporting Unaccompanied Minors

May 28, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Democratic leaders today sent a letter to Health and Human Services Deputy Inspector General Grimm calling on him to investigate allegations that ICE is interfering with ORR’s legal obligation under the Flores Settlement to place children in the least restrictive settings, including placement with suitable sponsors.

The letter was signed by Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Joaquin Castro (TX-20), House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), House Appropriations Subcommittee  on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Chair Rosa DeLauro (CT-3), House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security Chair Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), and House Judiciary Immigration and Citizenship Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren (CA-19). 

“The fact that some children may have previously been subject to MPP is no excuse to violate the Flores Settlement Agreement or other legal obligations imposed by Congress,” the Members wrote. “The HHS Office of Inspector General must conduct an impartial investigation into the allegation that ICE is interfering with ORR’s legal obligation to place children, previously subject to MPP, in the least restrictive settings appropriate for them.

Full text of the letter follows and can be found here.

Dear Deputy Inspector General Grimm, 

We write to request a prompt and thorough investigation in response to reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is preventing the reunification of unaccompanied minors with sponsors while such children remain in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).  According to recent reports, ICE appears to be targeting unaccompanied children who were at one time subject to the Remain in Mexico Program, otherwise known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).

There are currently dozens of migrant children previously subject to MPP proceedings who are now in shelters operated by ORR.  According to nonprofit organizations, ICE agents have been appearing at ORR facilities and removing children who are at varying stages of pursuing immigration relief or contesting their prior orders of removal.  Since March 2020, there have been 15 known children that the Department of Homeland Security has sought to deport without allowing adequate time for children to be released to sponsors or to obtain legal assistance.  At least six of these reported attempts resulted in deportation, while others have been temporarily blocked by federal court orders.[1]  

The principal purpose of the Flores Settlement Agreement is to ensure that migrant children are released from detention as expeditiously as possible, and that any children who cannot be released are transferred to facilities licensed by a State as appropriate for housing dependent children.[2] Further, for over 20 years, federal law has recognized the particular and enduring vulnerability of children who arrive in the United States without parents or legal guardians.  In 2008, Congress strengthened these protections through landmark, bipartisan legislation: the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA).[3] The TVPRA expanded on the Homeland Security Act of 2002 by setting forth specific procedures for the screening, processing, and custody of unaccompanied children.[4] The TVPRA also expanded various protections for children, ensuring that unaccompanied children can apply for any legal relief for which they may qualify, including asylum and special immigrant juvenile status.  These protections are crucial to ensuring unaccompanied children receive fair treatment and due process in the immigration system.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through ORR, has played a crucial and significant role in ensuring that unaccompanied children receive humane treatment and due process, consistent with our nation’s laws.  It is thus deeply concerning that ICE appears to be interfering with ORR’s legal obligation to place children in the least restrictive settings appropriate for them, including placement with suitable sponsors.  The fact that some children may have previously been subject to MPP is no excuse to violate the Flores Settlement Agreement or other legal obligations imposed by Congress. The HHS Office of Inspector General must conduct an impartial investigation into the allegation that ICE is interfering with ORR’s legal obligation to place children, previously subject to MPP, in the least restrictive settings appropriate for them.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

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[1] Lomi Kriel, The Trump administration is rushing deportations of migrant children during coronavirus, The Texas Tribune (May 18, 2020), https://www.texastribune.org/2020/05/18/trump-deportations-migrant-children-texas-coronavirus/

[2] Stipulated Settlement Agreement, Jenny Lissette Flores v. Reno, Case No. 85-4544-RJK (C.D. CA 1997) ¶ 6, 14, 19.

[3] Pub. L. No. 110-457, 49 Stat. 651.

[4] 8 U.S.C. § 1232. 
 
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