HHS Cuts Funds For Cancer Research, HEAD Start & Women’s Shelters For Child Detention

So far this month, discharges from custody have been running at a rate of around 0.6 to 0.7 percent per day, less than half the 1.5 percent shown in reports obtained by Yahoo News from early April and from late July. Meanwhile the intake of unaccompanied immigrant children into ORR facilities has remained relatively steady, with average daily referrals from Customs and Border Protection in the range of 100 to 200.

“This is not a story about a historically large surge in arrivals,” said Mark Greenberg, a former official with HHS’s Administration for Children and Families. “The story is fundamentally about a significant slowdown in children being released from care.”

Greenberg, now a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, worked at the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), which includes ORR, from 2009 to 2017, serving as acting assistant secretary during the last three years of the Obama administration. He said that even during the major surges of 2014 and 2016, the goal was to keep the average daily discharge rate at 3 percent. “Most typically, the discharge rate was somewhere in the 2s, with significant concern if it fell below 2,” he said. “It was certainly not below 1.”

In his letter notifying Sen. Murray of the transfer of funds, Azar stated that, based on the current growth pattern and what he described as “an increased length of time needed to safely release unaccompanied alien children to sponsors, HHS is preparing for the trend of high capacity to continue.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks at a school safety meeting on Aug. 16. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The majority of children housed in such facilities come to the U.S. on their own from the northern triangle countries of Central America — Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — often fleeing gang violence. However, during the months that border officials were separating families under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy, children who’d actually entered the country with a parent were being reclassified as “unaccompanied” and referred to ORR, in a chaotic process that left children stranded, in some cases while their parents were being deported. The subsequent effort to reunite those children, which has required the diversion of staff from ORR and elsewhere throughout the Administration for Children and Families, has likely contributed to the slowdown in discharges.

But that’s not the only reason. Months before the family separation crisis came to a head, unaccompanied minors were already spending extended periods of time in ORR facilities, which are intended to house children temporarily until a parent or suitable adult sponsor can be identified.

In March, Yahoo News reported that a new policy requiring ORR Director Scott Lloyd to personally approve the release of certain children resulted in many remaining in custody longer, even after a proper sponsor had been approved. Lawyers representing the children and immigration advocates said they were being falsely suspected of gang affiliations. More and more aged out of custody and were transferred to adult detention facilities on their 18th birthdays. In response to a lawsuit by the New York Civil Liberties Union, a New York federal judge in June determined that Lloyd had violated the federal Administrative Procedure Act by enacting the policy almost immediately upon being sworn in as director, “with no record demonstrating the need for change,” and ordered him to halt it.

At the same time, parents and other potential adult sponsors who might have taken the children in were being frightened away by the environment of heightened enforcement under Trump. More than 400 people were arrested by ICE last summer in an operation targeting parents of unaccompanied immigrant kids. A rumor spread about an agreement among ORR, ICE and CBP that would require ORR to inform ICE with the names, fingerprints and other personal details of not only proposed sponsors but all adults in the household. Even before the policy was implemented in June, the prospect was deterring potential sponsors from coming forward.

“As soon as the announcement was made that they were going to do this, it had an immediate chilling effect,” said Jennifer Podkul, policy director at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), which provides pro bono legal services to immigrant children.

This photo of Casa Padre, an immigrant shelter for unaccompanied minors, in Brownsville, Texas, was provided by the Department of Health and Human Services in June. (Photo: ACF/HHS/Handout via Reuters)

“We started seeing kids linger in care longer before it officially went into effect,” said Podkul, noting that KIND also received calls from the Honduran Embassy asking whether it should advise Honduran citizens in the U.S. against coming forward to sponsor a child.

Matthew Albence, the executive associate director for enforcement and removal operations at ICE, validated these fears during a hearing about family detention before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday, stating that under the policy ICE has apprehended 41 prospective sponsors so far.

Greenberg explained that the process of releasing unaccompanied minors into the care of adult sponsors has always involved a bit of a balancing act.

“There are lots of tradeoffs and judgments involved in that process,” he said. “On the one hand, [it’s] important to be sure that children are being released in safe and appropriate settings. On the other hand, there’s a strong interest in children being released to the least restrictive environment quickly, so long as it is safe to do.”

Greenberg said the agency was prompted to review and strengthen its vetting policies after a number of teenagers who’d come in the surge of 2014 were mistakenly released to traffickers in Ohio who claimed to be family friends. After that, he said, the agency expanded home studies and background checks for all prospective sponsors as well as backup care providers, checking for histories of child abuse and neglect.

Greenberg said that during his time at ORR, routine fingerprinting for parents seeking to regain custody of their children was not required, since ORR “very rarely received any information from fingerprinting that they didn’t otherwise get from public records checks for criminal history.” And it was “clear that fingerprinting was a significant deterrent for parents coming forward.”

“The more you create a situation where children are more likely to go to distant relatives or nonrelatives, the more dangerous it is for children,” said Abigail Trillin, a staff attorney at the San Francisco-based Legal Services for Children. “We’re starting to see undocumented folks not going to come forward, therefore children either stay in detention or go to more distant people who might happen to be documented,” she said, a “situation that is at best challenging and at worst dangerous for children.”

Source Article from https://popularresistance.org/hhs-cuts-funds-for-cancer-research-head-start-womens-shelters-for-child-detention/

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