The US Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) lost track of some 1,500 children it settled with US sponsors, acknowledged Steven Wagner, the acting assistant for the Administration for Children and Families, a part of Department of Health and Human Services, and an ORR host.
According to a report by USA Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) hands over unaccompanied and undocumented children caught on the US-Mexico border, a whopping 40,000 children during the 2017 fiscal year.
Once detained, the ORR settles undocumented children with a ‘sponsor' — ordinarily a parent or a close relative, if available. In many cases, however, a sponsor is someone unknown to the child. The ORR is required to check on the sponsored children after a 30-day period.
The ORR does not intend to make any moves regarding the missing children, however, as, according to Wagner, "it has been HHS's long-standing interpretation of the law that ORR is not legally responsible for children after they are released from ORR care."
Speaking to lawmakers, Wagner said that it is not ORR's responsibility to track what the children do after placement or to ensure that they show up at their immigration hearing.
"We do not know who is showing up and who isn't," he said. "We don't know those kids […] We don't follow up to ensure they go to the hearing."
As the National Review points out, the ORR lost track of the children either because some families moved or because some families, being undocumented immigrants themselves, prefer not to come into contact with authorities.
The issue came into the spotlight a month after the DHS spoke in defense of agency policies that routinely results in a large number of families being separated at the border.
According to DHS head Kirstjen Nielsen, the policy refers everyone caught crossing the border illegally for prosecution, even if they claim asylum or have small children. Any parent prosecuted as a result will be separated from their child in the process, CNN reports.
"Our policy is if you break the law, we will prosecute you," Nielsen told the Senate. "You have an option to go to a port of entry and not illegally cross into our country."
"The root of the problem is that unaccompanied children are showing up at our border, a situation that is fraught with peril," writes National Review's Rich Lowry.
"We should be doing all we can to stop that flow so a federal bureaucracy doesn't have responsibility for finding adults to care for them," Lowry asserted, adding, "but the same people frothing with outrage […] have very little interest in trying to do that."