HHS Official: We Don’t Verify Immigration Status of Sponsors for Unaccompanied Children

by Andrew Johnson

The Department of Health and Human Services’s policy for unaccompanied illegal-immigrant children does not require the department to verify whether the sponsors with whom they stay before their immigration hearing are legal residents themselves, according to a department official. As noted by Senate Homeland Security ranking member Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), not doing so “markedly diminishes” the likelihood that the children return for an immigration hearing.

During a committee hearing on Wednesday, HHS official Mark Greenberg admitted that the department prioritizes finding the “least restrictive setting in the child’s best interest” when placing the child with a sponsor, including considerations for their safety, and does not take legal status into account. Greenberg said the department makes sure the sponsors understand that they are tasked with making the child available for any proceedings and hearings.

But Coburn noted that if the sponsors themselves are not legal residents, then they are likely not to risk exposing themselves in the process. Greenberg was unable to provide a clear answer beyond that this process is part of HHS policy.