In a major reversal, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has revised a June 2018 policy that required all adults living with people seeking to sponsor migrant children from custody to submit their fingerprints for background checks. Parents will continue to be required to submit fingerprints and ORR will continue to share information with the Department of Homeland Security.
The New York Civil Liberties Union, along with the ACLU, the National Center for Youth Law and the law firm Morrison & Foerster, sued the federal government over changes to ORR’s fingerprint policy in November, charging that the significant expansion of who had to be fingerprinted had slowed the process for releasing migrant children from custody and put their family members at risk for deportation. In the months following the change in policy, the average length of time children remained detained rose to a historic high of nearly three months. Those delays contributed to the total number of migrant children in government custody ballooning to nearly 15,000, the highest level in history.
NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman: “This major reversal should help speed up the process to reunite children with their families and protect family members from the risk of deportation. The changes to the fingerprint policy created massive and unnecessary backlogs for the release of detained migrant children, adding weeks and months while their family members waded through bureaucratic delays. Dropping the fingerprint requirement for all adults living with people applying to sponsor migrant children will reduce the barriers to reunifying families and the trauma of separation.”
The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the federal agency responsible for immigrant children in government custody, began requiring fingerprint checks of children’s parents and all of their sponsors’ household members in June 2018—and at the same time began sharing fingerprints with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for immigration enforcement purposes. Those changes have proven catastrophic for immigrant children. Fingerprint-based background checks now add weeks and months to the length of time migrant children are detained. Families also fear immigration enforcement, deterring some and lengthening the time required for others to obtain the release of their children. Recent reporting shows that at least 170 people who submitted fingerprints as part of applying to sponsor migrant children have been detained and placed in removal proceedings.
NYCLU experts are available to discuss the implications of this policy change. More information about the lawsuit, which seeks to represent a national class of migrant children in government custody, can be found here: https://www.nyclu.org/en/press-releases/lawsuit-trump-administration-using-fingerprint-checks-delay-release-immigrant