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Press Release // Family Reunification

Biden Administration Terminates Trump Memo Impacting Reunification of Unaccompanied Migrant Children with their U.S.-based Sponsors

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LIRS Staff

March 12, 2021

Contact: Timothy Young | | 443-257-6310

Today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the termination of a 2018 Memorandum of Agreement that undermined the best interests of unaccompanied migrant children, and sparked a chilling effect among potential sponsors from coming forward to sponsor them. DHS and HHS have signed a new Memorandum of Agreement that promotes the safe and timely transfer of children. The new agreement does not change safeguards designed to ensure unaccompanied children are unified with properly vetted sponsors who can safely care for them while they await immigration proceedings, according to the agencies.

The following is a statement by Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service – a faith-based nonprofit with 40 years of experience reuniting and serving unaccompanied migrant children and their U.S. sponsors.:

“Through our Safe Release program, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service operates the majority of fingerprint sites across the nation to vet potential sponsors of unaccompanied migrant children. Since the Trump administration memorandum was introduced, we witnessed children staying longer in ORR care, prolonging family separation and in some instances, removing the option of family unification if a child’s only sponsor withdrew their application. The MOA was yet another example of how a deterrence approach to immigration fails to consider the best interests of the children, and ultimately harms both them and their loved ones.

In monitoring the impact of the MOA at our fingerprint sites, we witnessed a significant chilling effect among sponsors willing to come forward. In the period preceding the memorandum, only 6% of potential sponsors either cancelled or did not appear for their appointment – after its implementation, that figure increased to 33%. Similarly, before the original memorandum was issued, no potential sponsor had declined to be fingerprinted – after its implementation, 9% of potential sponsors declined to be fingerprinted.

The Biden administration’s termination of this harmful memorandum is a welcome, common-sense step towards an immigration system that centers on the best interests of children and the principle of family unity. We are grateful that the new administration is prioritizing humane policy to ensure sponsors feel safe coming forward, and that ultimately, children do not languish in custody.

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