- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Trump administration said Tuesday it’s eliminating some of the checks it makes before releasing illegal-immigrant children to homes in the U.S., clearing the way for thousands of the kids to be released by Christmas.

No longer will every person have to undergo fingerprinting in a home where an unaccompanied illegal immigrant juvenile is going to be placed. With the new changes, only sponsors will need to be checked, federal health officials said.

“The children should be home with their parents. The government makes lousy parents,” Lynn Johnson, assistant secretary at the Health and Human Services Department’s Administration for Children and Families, told NPR in an interview announcing the change.

She said 2,000 children are ready to be released this week.

The announcement came the same day the State Department said it’s struck a deal to direct more than $10 billion to a new round of nation-building in Mexico and Central America, looking to strengthen civil society and try to entice people to remain home rather than join the migration north.

That migration has fueled the surge of illegal immigrant children and families from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. They’ve taken advantage of lax U.S. enforcement, overwhelming the government’s ability to handle them.

Nearly 15,000 children are in government-run shelters spread across the U.S., awaiting sponsors who can take them into families.

Part of the increasing backlog is due to the sheer numbers coming — but the Trump administration also fueled the problem by separating families as a consequence of its zero-tolerance border policy, and by imposing stiffer fingerprint checks on the adults who seek to take the children in.

Officials had described those checks as critical for public safety, saying they wanted to make sure none of the children were placed in homes with criminals or child abusers. They had defended that process to a federal judge earlier this year as critical.

But with the shelter system nearing capacity, officials at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees the children, concluded they don’t need to make fingerprint checks any more.

Other public-records checks will still be run.

Immigrant-rights advocates had complained that the fingerprint checks were a way of identifying illegal immigrants who might be in the homes where the children were sent, making them targets for deportation. They cheered Tuesday’s retreat by the Trump team.

“This major reversal should help speed up the process to reunite children with their families and protect family members from the risk of deportation,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which had sued over the fingerprint policy.

Activists said at least 170 people identified in fingerprint checks related to juvenile placements had been snared by deportation authorities.

The government said it will still conduct home studies before releasing a child to a non-parent sponsor or where there’s evidence of abuse or trafficking or a child 12 years or younger involved.

And it has not revoked its policy of sharing information with deportation officers — though without fingerprints activists expect fewer people to be caught.

Housing the children has become an expensive burden, in addition to earning fierce criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill, who say any detention of children is cruel.

Democrats have also complained that the Trump administration has botched the response to the surge of migrants, saying they are refugees from violence and poverty in their home countries, not traditional illegal immigrants seeking jobs or family reunification.

Survey data and a new academic study contradict those assertions, finding that most Central American migrants are, in fact, coming for the traditional reasons of bettering their finances or finding family already in the U.S.

Whatever the reason, Central Americans are setting records for illegal immigration to the U.S. in recent months.

President Trump has begged Mexico to do more to stop them at its southern border, and pleaded with the Central American nations themselves to put pressure on its people to stay.

Those countries have said the solution must involve more cash.

And the U.S. government appears ready to pony up, based on the deal struck between the U.S. and Mexico. The plan was read aloud in Mexico City on Tuesday.

“I have a dream that I want to see become a reality … that nobody will want to go work in the United States anymore,” new Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said at a morning news conference before the announcement, according to the Associated Press.

Under the deal, the U.S. promised $5.8 billion in public and private investment for Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and $4.8 billion in investment to Mexico from the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

That money is part of Mexico’s $25 billion plan over five years to bolster its own southern region.

Both the U.S. and Mexico also vowed a Cabinet-level meeting in January to settle on ways to “address root causes of migration” from Central America.

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