US refugee office loses 1500 children, says not 'legally responsible' for finding them
A Senate testimony, which was released last month, detailed how the program "was unable to determine with certainty the whereabouts of 1,475 [children]."
A US government program, meant to place unaccompanied refugee children taken from the US-Mexico border into a parent or sponsor's care, last month admitted that it had lost track of nearly 1,500 refugee kids, according to report.
The Administration for Children and Families, which is a part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), however, also added it was not responsible for finding the children it has lost.
A Senate testimony, which was released last month, detailed how the program Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) "was unable to determine with certainty the whereabouts of 1,475 [children]," according to the acting assistant secretary with the Administration for Children and Families, Steve Wagner.
Wagner, disclosed the number of lost refugee children to a subcommittee in April while discussing the state of the ORR.
Reports state that the ORR was assigned with checking on the welfare of over 7,000 children between October and December 2017, who were supposedly placed into homes of a guardian or a sponsor.
According to the testimony, along with nearly 1,500 children missing, an additional 28 children ran away and at least 52 of them were living with someone other than their initial sponsor, according to reports.
Wagner added that the "ORR is not legally responsible for children after they are released from ORR care" and handed over to a sponsor.
Reports state that more than 40,000 children, in 2017 alone, were taken by the Department of Homeland Security from the US-Mexico border and handed over to the ORR.
An attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)'s Immigrant Rights Project, Lee Gelernt, while talking to Huffington Post said: "This is as horrific a policy as I’ve seen in 25-plus years doing civil rights work. No child should be sent to these government facilities if they don’t have to be, especially with all these problems in the ORR system."
In a horrific mistake in 2014, the ORR had once released multiple minors to human traffickers in the country, according to reports.
While defending his stance, Wagner said that he would taking a "fresh look" at whether the office should be given more responsibility in an attempt to protect the children it takes and gives away through its program.
However, he added that if the office was required to keep a thorough track of the immigrant kids being assigned then the ORR would require a "significant expansion of the current program structure and an increase in resources."
"I understand that 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," Wagner said.
A spokesperson for the Administration for Children and Families, in a statement, said that it was reviewing the statements and recommendations made at last month's hearing, however, it would not comment on them before making an official response to the Congress, according to CNN.
"When an unaccompanied alien child is placed with a sponsor, he or she ceases to be in the custody of the US government and all HHS-provided subsistence -- food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and education -- ends at that point and the child becomes the responsibility of his or her parent, guardian or sponsor," the statement added.