Biden Repeals Trump-Era Policy on Caregivers for Migrant Kids

The Biden administration is repealing a Trump-era policy on unaccompanied child migrants in order to encourage their family members in the U.S. to take custody of them, even if the parents or guardians are not living in the country legally.

Under a 2018 memorandum, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement was directed to ask Immigration and Customs Enforcement about the legal status and criminal history of potential sponsors before releasing unaccompanied minors into their care. That information could be used by authorities to deport adult sponsors living illegally in the U.S.

The Department of Homeland Security and HHS announced Friday in a joint statement that the policy was ending, saying it “undermined the interests of children and had a chilling effect on potential sponsors (usually a parent or close relative) from stepping up to sponsor an unaccompanied child placed in the care of HHS.”

DHS and HHS signed a new agreement “that promotes the safe and timely transfer of children,” the agencies announced, without providing the full text. The statement said the new agreement does not remove other standards used to vet sponsors to ensure they can care properly for the children.

A Biden administration official told reporters that under the new policy, there will not be immigration enforcement actions taken against family members who take custody of the children.

Spike in Arrivals

The move is the latest in a series of actions the Biden administration has taken as it struggles to handle a spike in migrants arriving at the border -- including unaccompanied children and teenagers -- that threatens to turn into a humanitarian and political crisis.

Republicans have blamed the influx on Biden’s stated intentions to create a more “humane” immigration system, calling it an open invitation for migrants to rush the border. The White House has rejected those claims, saying deteriorating conditions in Central American countries have driven migrants north and former President Donald Trump’s hard-line policies have left the government ill-prepared for them.

Administration officials said they were stationing personnel from HHS at Border Patrol stations to speed up the process of reuniting migrant children with U.S. family, and therefore clear shelter and holding facility space quicker.

200 Extra Beds

Officials said more than 200 additional beds have become available for use by the refugee agency since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed shelters to return to pre-pandemic level capacity. But officials cautioned it could take more time to create additional shelter space, which they said is currently not sufficient to meet demand.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered about 3,500 migrants per day in February, a nearly 30% increase from January. At the same time, the number of families and children traveling alone more than doubled, according to figures released this week.

The influx, combined with diminished shelter space, has caused many unaccompanied minors to stay longer than the 72-hour limit required by law at CBP holding facilities before they are sent to shelters.

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