WASHINGTON — In an effort to crack down on illegal immigration by minors, the Trump administration will soon require fingerprints from parents coming to claim their migrant children from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), according to senior administration officials.
Previously, parents had been exempt from inputting their fingerprints into a system that would determine whether they have a criminal record.
A similar proposal was floated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the Obama administration, but HHS pushed back, saying the process could delay family reunification and possibly intimidate parents from claiming their children, according to a Reuters report from April 2016.
Asked whether they were concerned that the practice would scare parents away from claiming their children, Acting Assistant Secretary Steve Wagner said parents who do not want to claim their own children may not be fit to be parents. He added that the measure will ensure that children are matched in safe homes.
Illegal immigration by families traveling with children and by children traveling alone — often to reunite with parents and family members in the United States — has increased substantially in 2018 compared to 2017, causing the Trump administration to begin separating children who arrive with guardians and placing them into foster care. The number of unaccompanied children doubled in the first four months of 2018 from the first four months of 2017, rising to 14,805.
HHS admitted in congressional testimony last week that it could not track down nearly 1,500 children in follow-up calls made to the homes where they had been placed after arriving in the United States unaccompanied.
The new policy would be a memorandum of agreement between the Department of Homeland Security and HHS and would not require the approval of Congress.
When such a proposal was floated under the Obama administration in 2016, ICE also wanted to use the fingerprints as a way to search for immigration status and possibly deport parents coming to claim their children. It is unclear whether the agencies will allow the fingerprints to be used for immigration enforcement in the agreement, which is still being finalized.