A top official at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday called reports that the agency has lost almost 1,500 immigrant children false and misleading.
The government reportedly places the separated children in foster homes.
Following recent news reports of children lost in the system after crossing the border illegally, outrage erupted on social media in recent days after reports emerged that HHS over the past three months of 2017 lost track of 1,475 children who crossed into the United States from Mexico by themselves and were placed with sponsors.
Those stories and others were based on remarks made by Health and Human Services Acting Assistant Secretary Steven Wagner in a Senate hearing on April 26 before a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee. Tracking them down could end up endangering more children and families. In a survey of 7,635 children ORR had placed with adult sponsors, contacted by the agency between October and December of a year ago, 6,075 were still living with their sponsors, 28 had run away, five had been deported, and 52 were living with someone else. Asking ORR to be more strict about releasing undocumented kids, and keeping an eye on them after they are released, could make it harder for sponsors to step up and take in their family members. From these calls, ORR learned that 6,075 UAC remained with their sponsors. The 7,635 well-being calls found that 52 children were living in the care of someone else, eight had run away and five had been deported.
The fact sheet cites Wagner, who says the unaccompanied alien children program "is being abused" at the expense of taxpayers.
The HHS asserted that its primary legal authority is to temporarily house and then release unaccompanied children to a sponsor. But Wagner said HHS is not responsible for the children. He said this is not the case, however, and could just be an instance of a missed call. Hargan said some of the sponsors may not be picking up the phone because they are not in the country legally.
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"This is the core of this issue: In many cases, HHS has been put in the position of placing illegal aliens with the individuals who helped arrange for them to enter the country illegally. This makes the immediate crisis worse and creates a perverse incentive for further violation of federal immigration law", Hargan said in the statement.
Whatever the reason for being unable to reach these sponsors, the federal government acknowledges it can not verify the location of these immigrant minors.
Wagner's statement has attracted more attention amid reports that immigrant children are being separated from their parents at the US border. Mr. Trump seized on that error.
The office is "taking a fresh look at that question", he added.
The HHS deputy secretary said the ORR began "voluntarily" making calls in 2016 as a 30-day follow-up on the release of unaccompanied minors to ensure that their sponsors did not require additional services or support.