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ICE agents taking an immigrant's fingerprints in 2017. Photo: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have been tasked since January with fingerprinting teens in child migrant shelters who entered the country without their parents, BuzzFeed News reported and Axios confirmed.

Why it matters: ICE says the data collection is for the children's protection, but it also comes as immigration agencies have ramped up their collection of migrant biometric data.

More than 7,800 child migrants released from shelters overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to family members or other "sponsors" have not shown up for immigration court hearings and have "disappeared," a senior ICE official told Axios in a statement.

  • The agency's move is intended, at least in part, "to mitigate and prevent the risk of their victimization by human traffickers and smugglers, and to reduce misidentification," according to the senior official. Immigrant registration and fingerprinting are also required by law.

The big picture: Over the last year, the Trump administration has taken multiple steps to ramp up the amount of biometric data they collect on migrants — enabling them to more carefully track and, when necessary, quickly deport unauthorized immigrants.

  • In April 2019, Border Patrol began collecting biometric data, including fingerprints, from more migrant children under 14 years old who crossed the border with their parents, AP reported.
  • Last month, Customs and Border Protection began a pilot program to collect DNA from some migrants in its custody, CNN reported. Immigrants in any federal immigration agency's custody could ultimately be subject to having their DNA collected and stored in the FBI's criminal database.

Between the lines: The trend points to immigration enforcement officials' frustration at how little information HHS collects — or verifies — before releasing a migrant child to a sponsor.

  • "HHS is basically rushing to get kids out of custody," a White House official told Axios. "When a child goes missing, we have nothing on the child."
  • The senior ICE official called HHS' current information collection practices "dangerous and irresponsible," accusing the department of "willfully" relying on suspect documents "for the sole purpose of increasing the speed of placement and ignoring the obvious risks to child welfare and safety."

The other side: HHS told Axios in a statement that it has extensive vetting processes that do not allow migrant minors to be released to "known fugitives" and that they provide ICE with the address and name of each released child's new caretaker.

  • "These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and HHS treats its responsibility for each child with the utmost care," it added.

Go deeper

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.