US federal agency says it lost track of 1,488 migrant children
Twice in less than a year, the federal government has lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children after placing them in the homes of sponsors across the country, federal officials have acknowledged.
The Health and Human Services Department recently told Senate staffers that case managers could not find 1,488 children after they made follow-up calls to check on their safety from April through June.
That number represents about 13 percent of all unaccompanied children the administration moved out of shelters and foster homes during that time.
The agency first disclosed that it had lost track of 1,475 children late last year, as it came under fire at a Senate hearing in April.
Lawmakers had asked department officials how they had strengthened child protection policies since it came to light that the agency previously had rolled back safeguards meant to keep Central American children from ending up in the hands of human traffickers.
“The fact that HHS, which placed these unaccompanied minors with sponsors, doesn’t know the whereabouts of nearly 1,500 of them is very troubling,” Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, the panel’s chair, said Wednesday.
“Many of these kids are vulnerable to trafficking and abuse, and to not take responsibility for their safety is unacceptable.”
Department spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley disputed the notion that the children were “lost.”
“Their sponsors, who are usually parents or family members and in all cases have been vetted for criminality and ability to provide for them, simply did not respond or could not be reached when this voluntary call was made,” she said in a statement.
Since October 2014, the federal government has placed more than 150,000 unaccompanied minors with parents or other adult sponsors who are expected to care for the children and help them attend school while they seek legal status in immigration court.
On Tuesday, members of a Senate subcommittee introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at requiring the agency to take responsibility for the care of migrant children, even when they are no longer in its custody.