Fingerprinting Parents of Child Immigrants Debated by US Agencies

With a new, incoming wave of unaccompanied Central American children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border into the country, immigration enforcement officers in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have suggested taking fingerprints of all people claiming custody of said children.

The proposal, drafted as a memo responding to a February Senate hearing, would expand fingerprinting to include parents as well as non-parents. ICE would then check the fingerprints against an FBI database of criminals to ensure the people claiming the children are their parents as well as prevent the children from being placed with individuals with criminal histories.

This proposal was met by still opposition, particularly from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), who assured people they have no intention of changing the fingerprinting policy, stating the change would delay family reunions and infringe upon the parent-child relationship.

Bobbie Gregg, deputy director for children’s services at HHS’s office of refugee resettlement, said “One of our goals is to place children with an appropriate sponsor as promptly as we can safely do so. And so any delay for placing the child with their parent is time that we’re keeping a parent and child separated.”

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Justice Department oversee and advise ICE and HHS. The proposal is preliminary and subject to change, but for now the White House has declined to comment on it.

From January 2014 to April 2015, more than 31,000 parents claimed children who entered the US from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. 60 percent of claimed children were parents, while the rest were other relatives, and only 161 non-relative sponsors claimed children.

Parents who want to claim children would have to appear at the housing complexes were illegal immigrant children are kept, and would have to prove parentage through birth certificates or DNA tests.

Immigration advocates fear fingerprinting the parents could enable ICE to prosecute them and possibly arrest them for deportation proceedings.