WASHINGTON, D.C. – According to officials at the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), the Trump administration plans to replace ORR leadership – the U.S. agency largely responsible for the welfare of migrant and refugee children arriving alone (“unaccompanied”) or separated from their parents – with personnel from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In response to the possible White House action, Leah Chavla, of the migrant rights and justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), issued the following statement:
“WRC strongly condemns these plans. ORR, while far from perfect, is a child welfare agency, wholly separate from law enforcement, for good reason. ICE, as an agency, lacks the perspective, expertise, and statutory mandate to appropriately care for children.
“Anyone who understands the trauma that migrant and refugee children have had to endure as a result of the Trump administration’s cruel immigration policies knows that placing their well-being in the hands of enforcement-centered immigration officers is a recipe for disaster.
“Sadly, that may be exactly what the Trump administration has in mind. Since the start of this administration, ICE has been targeting unaccompanied children – some of the most vulnerable people fleeing to our country for safety – and their families.
“Allowing an ICE official to be embedded at the top of ORR would jeopardize any remaining safety measures to ensure children have access to protection and can be quickly released from custody to a safe and appropriate sponsor while they undergo immigration proceedings. This plan must not be carried out.”
Today’s news is the latest of several major efforts by ICE to go after unaccompanied children. In May of 2018, for example, at the height of this administration’s zero tolerance policy, implementation of a mandatory information-sharing agreement between ORR and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) required ORR to share with ICE information on potential and current sponsors of unaccompanied children and their household members. This led to enforcement actions against hundreds of sponsors and a chilling effect on sponsors’ willingness to come forward. Since many sponsors are close family members of children, including parents and legal guardians, the agreement resulted in a new type of family separation and caused children to languish in government custody, among other harms.
More recently, in December of 2019, news broke about ICE’s plans to target for deportation adults denied sponsorship of unaccompanied children.