Feb 6, 2020 - Politics & Policy

ICE is fingerprinting teen migrants

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

Trump's budget proposal requests "wildly large" ICE funding

Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

The White House is asking for a boost to this year's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) budget, a proposal that includes 60,000 detention beds — 6,000 more than last year's budget proposal and around 15,000 more than ICE actually received.

Why it matters: It is a "wildly large" ask, an administration official told Axios. "It's almost too much money absent any sort of immigration reform."

Trump has declared war on sanctuary cities

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Armed with subpoenas, lawsuits and immigration SWAT teams, the Trump administration has declared war on sanctuary cities.

The big picture: President Trump and his administration have used every available tool to try to crack down on local governments that refuse to hold unauthorized immigrants in criminal custody, block immigration agents from working in county jails or deny federal authorities access to immigrants' records.

Cellphone tracking everywhere

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Trump administration is using private data to monitor immigration and the border, thanks to a massive database of cellphone records it purchased from private vendors.

Why it matters: Experts are concerned about the scale and use of the data, even if it appears to be on firm legal footing, the Wall Street Journal reports.