The federal government has admitted that it does not know the whereabouts of almost 1,500 immigrant children in its custody, according to news reports.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement took in some 40,000 immigrant children in 2017 and when the agency reached out to check on more than 7,000 of them between October and December of 2017, 1,475 were unaccounted for at the end of the year, CNN reported.
The news came as the Trump administration cracks down on undocumented immigrants, threatening to separate more children from their families if the families are caught entering the United States illegally, in a new policy move.
In testimony before Congress earlier this month, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Neilsen said the children of illegal immigrants are transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services within 48 hours after they are taken into custody, and DHHS officials then find sponsored homes for them, USA Today reported.
Nielsen said separations like this happen in the U.S. every day.
Top DHHS official Steven Wagner testified before a Congressional subcommittee last month during a hearing on the Office of Refugee Resettlement that the ORR was “was unable to determine with certainty the whereabouts of 1,475 children,” and that 28 more had run away, CNN reported.
“I understand that it has been HHS’ long-standing interpretation of the law that ORR is not legally responsible for the children after they are released from ORR care,” Wagner said.
Wagner also said DHHS is “taking a fresh look at that question,” according to CNN, but he also said ORR would need a lot more money if the office is expected to be legally responsible for unaccompanied immigrant children.