May 13, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden administration mum on tracking migrant kids

Text books and notebooks line tables inside a classroom at a Influx Care Facility (ICF) for unaccompanied children

A classroom at an Influx Care Facility for unaccompanied migrant children. Photo: Sergio Flores/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Thousands of migrant children have been released by the Biden administration to caretakers in the U.S. as part of the government's program for unaccompanied minors — but there's little-to-no visibility about what's happened to them.

Flashback: During the Trump administration, there was outrage when a top official told Congress his agency was unable to verify the locations of about 1,500 kids released to sponsors. Today, the agency in charge won't answer questions about its efforts to keep track of these vulnerable children.

Between the lines: The Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families requires that check-in calls be made to sponsors — often a parent or other relative — 30 days after a child is released.

  • The agency has denied requests from Axios for data about whether the calls are being made or sponsors have been reached.
  • About 10,000 to 15,000 migrant children have received post-release services in recent fiscal years, according to HHS data, although it is not always required.
  • Axios was also denied information about how many kids have received these services since President Biden took office.

The 30-day phone call requirement was created while Mark Greenberg was at the Administration for Children and Families.

  • "It would be much better, in my opinion, if there was regular reporting about numbers of calls, numbers of successful contacts," said Greenberg, who oversaw the unaccompanied minors program during the Obama administration.
  • Greenberg also said there should be better ongoing care after children are released from federal custody.

Reality check: HHS shelters take in unaccompanied children who cross the border until a sponsor can be found. But the program "was never intended as a process for ongoing engagement and tracking," Greenberg said.

  • There are many reasons why shelter workers may have difficulty reaching families after releasing a child — including fear of information being shared with immigration law enforcement agencies.
  • Still, the record numbers of kids crossing into the U.S. in recent months lay bare the shortcomings of the government's process to handle them.
  • Multiple current and former government officials have expressed concern about the ability to ensure children's safety after release.

By the numbers: Since the end of January, about 22,000 kids have been released to sponsors, according to HHS data that excludes some weekends. In February and March, 45% of kids were released to a parent or legal guardian.

  • As the administration has ramped up its efforts to find and vet sponsors, earlier this month it released a high of 775 kids in a single day.
  • The administration also has opened about a dozen new, temporary facilities.
  • When it comes to already limited follow-up services available, "I have no information as to what that looks like for children being released from the emergency intake sites," Greenberg said.

What to watch: Conservatives have been quick to point to horror stories of children being released to human traffickers, such as what happened in 2014.

  • They've also criticized the Biden administration for what they believe are lax vetting requirements.
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