Friday, November 16, 2018


Leads Multistate Coalition Opposing Policy that has Kept Thousands of Migrant Children in Prolonged Federal Detention at Unsuitable Shelters

            BOSTON – A multistate coalition of 12 attorneys general, led by Attorney General Maura Healey, today sent a letter demanding the Trump Administration immediately reverse a policy that has delayed and prevented the placement of unaccompanied migrant children with their family members or other appropriate sponsors living in the United States, keeping such children in prolonged federal detention.

            According to the letter, sent to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen, the policy requires prospective sponsors of unaccompanied migrant children and their entire households to submit to fingerprinting and background checks, which are automatically shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The letter alleges that the policy imposes unjustified burdens in the sponsorship process and leaves many prospective sponsors with an “untenable choice” of either leaving children in federal custody or coming forward and possibly exposing themselves or loved ones to immigration enforcement.

“Our government should be finding homes for unaccompanied migrant children, not using them as leverage for more deportations,” said AG Healey. “The Trump Administration should immediately reverse this cruel policy and start focusing its attention on lawful, humane, and effective solutions to immigration reform.” 

            The Office of Refugee Resettlement entered an agreement earlier this year with ICE and Customs and Border Protection to impose these requirements on prospective sponsors despite a lack of evidence that they would make children safer, according to the letter. The attorneys general contend that the requirements have resulted in immigration-related arrests of prospective sponsors and allege the true motive for collecting and sharing their information has been to detain and deport them.   
            The policy has kept migrant children in unnecessarily prolonged federal custody and contributed to the number of children in detention ballooning fivefold since last year to more than 13,000. These children have been left to languish in overburdened shelters, according to the letter, and the federal government is now dealing with capacity issues at these shelters by moving children to a makeshift tent city in Tornillo, Texas. The letter says the unlicensed tent city has been described as a prison-camp, with 20-person tents and military-style bunk beds and argues the policies that unnecessarily burden sponsorship will increase the number of children in detention and the reliance on these unsuitable detention facilities.

            AG Healey has fought for months against the Trump Administration’s illegal and unconstitutional policies that seek to bar migrants from crossing into the United States. In April, the Trump Administration announced a “zero tolerance” policy requiring the immediate separation of children from their parents and the criminal prosecution of adults who entered the U.S. without permission, including those seeking asylum. In June, AG Healey joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, DHS and Trump Administration officials over their illegal and immoral policy of forcibly separating children from their families at the southern border. The attorneys general claim that the policy violates due process, equal protection and federal law, and has torn apart countless families.

            This week, AG Healey joined with the attorneys general from Washington, California, and New York in filing an amicus brief in a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s attempt to bar asylum claims for children and adults who cross the country’s southern border. The lawsuit, which is pending in the Northern District of California, alleges that this sweeping policy change plainly violates domestic and international law. The amicus brief supports the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order to prevent the new rule from going into effect before states and members of the public have a chance to submit comments on the matter, per the procedural requirements for this type of rule change.  

            Last week, AG Healey joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general insubmitting comments to DHS and HHS in opposition to proposed regulations that would roll back protections for children held in immigrant detention facilities. The protections are the result of a settlement in prior litigation that afforded all immigrant children a right to be released from detention, set standards for their conditions of confinement, and provided meaningful oversight and monitoring of their care while in federal custody. The Administration is seeking to replace the protections in the settlement agreement with new, less protective regulations.

            Joining AG Healey in signing today’s letter are state attorneys general fromCalifornia, Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia. This matter was handled for Massachusetts by Abby Taylor and Angela Brooks of AG Healey’s Child and Youth Protection Unit.

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