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HHS Reports More Missing Immigrant Minors

John Minchillo

The Department of Health and Humans Services has told Congress that the federal government cannot account for another 1,500 unaccompanied minors. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is proposing new legislation to take better care of these children.

Unaccompanied minors come to the U.S. illegally without a parent. HHS detains them until a sponsor, usually family, can be found. The agency says it cannot confirm the whereabouts of 1,500 of those kids. That’s on top of another 1,500 from last April.

The federal government says it vets the sponsors for criminality, but that it is not required to monitor or track the children once released.

New bipartisan legislation would change that, requiring the federal government to assume responsibility for the children and even reassume custody of the child in the case of abuse or neglect.

Alicia Kingsman, an immigration lawyer with the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants, says, “If we really want to make sure that they are placed in a home that is adequate and safe, it is going to take a lot of resources. And I’m guessing that that’s the big issue.”

Kingsman and others point to cases in the past where unaccompanied minors are released to sponsors only to have them trafficked into forced labor or kept from school.

HHS says it’s wrong to assume the children who are unaccounted for are “lost.” The agency says it’s more likely the sponsor either didn’t answer the phone or is afraid doing so will lead to their deportation.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.