Migrant Children: Leaving their Conditions for Worse Ones?

On April 26, 2018, Steven Wagner, an official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), stated during a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee oversight hearing that HHS had lost track of 1475 migrant children in 2017. The migrant children had all been placed into HHS custody when trying to cross the Mexican border into the U.S, unaccompanied by adults.

When migrant children attempt to cross the border on their own, the Department of Homeland Security places them into the custody of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), who provides them with food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities, until sponsors are selected and approved for the children.

Officials at HHS maintain that once the ORR places migrant children into the care of sponsors, it is no longer the responsibility of HHS to keep track of them. HHS did, however, follow up with a survey of over 7,000 of the migrant children, and this is apparently how they discovered that almost 1500 of them are unaccounted for.

According to Snopes, “From October to December 2017, HHS called 7,635 children the agency had placed with sponsors, and found 6,075 of the children were still living with their sponsors, 28 had run away, five had been deported and 52 were living with someone else. The rest were ‘missing,’ said Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary at HHS.”

But this does not excuse the HHS’ complete lack of concern for following up on the safety and well-being of these children, which could be illustrated by Senator Rick Santorum’s comment on CNN’s State of the Union: “I mean, we lose people all the time in a lot of other government programs.”

Usually, a sponsor is a parent or other close family member, but sometimes, the sponsor is not related, or is a distant relative. When HHS releases migrant children to the care of sponsors, the children become the responsibility of the sponsors. On the one hand, with no oversight or follow-up from HHS, migrant children, if not in the hands of familiar and trusted relatives or family members, could be ripe for human trafficking.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), chairman of the Senate subcommittee, in response to the revelation the HHS had lost track of 1475 migrant children, cited the case of a group of Guatemalan boys who had been forced to work on an Ohio egg farm after the HHS had released them to the care of human traffickers posing as family members (and hence approved as sponsors).

“These kids, regardless of their immigration status, deserve to be treated properly, not abused or trafficked,” Portman said in the subcommittee. “This is all about accountability. …We’ve got these kids. They’re here. They’re living on our soil,” he told PBS. “And for us to just, you know, assume someone else is going to take care of them and throw them to the wolves, which is what HHS was doing, is flat-out wrong. I don’t care what you think about immigration policy, it’s wrong.”

On the other hand, with the Trump administration’s no-holds-barred approach to undocumented immigration (including the recent announcement that the Justice Department would begin to prosecute 100 percent of those who attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally), some feel that it’s not altogether bad that the HHS hasn’t caught up with all of the migrant children.

It’s possible that some of these migrant children and their sponsors have not responded to HHS calls because they have chosen to go “off the grid” in order to avoid the risk of deportation or prosecution. There are many other possible explanations for their “disappearance, including explanations as simple as an outdated phone number, or a decision not to answer the phone.

Whether we agree or not with the Trump administration’s policies regarding immigration, it is not ok to put any children, no matter what their status, at any level of risk for human trafficking. Just as true, though, is that undocumented migrant children are quite likely trying to flee a traumatic situation at home, and it is not ok, simply because we “can’t take on everyone in a difficult situation,” to subject these or any children to childhood trauma, whether through government negligence by formal policy.

Outrage over reports of ‘missing’ immigrant children – Daily Mail | Daily Mail [2018-05-28]

Federal Government Lost Track Of 1,500 Immigrant Children | Wochit Politics [2018-05-26]

HHS Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom: A Slippery Slope

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), under Donald Trump, is creating a new enforcement division: The Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom. The new HHS division, supporters say, establishes protection (referred to as “conscience protections”) for health care workers who refuse to treat certain people (such as transgender people), or perform certain procedures (such as an abortion) due to religious or moral objections.

The Trump Administration’s creation of the new HHS division repeals an Obama policy that prohibited health care professionals from refusing to provide services on grounds of moral or religious beliefs. This reversal raises a number of issues with people who think beyond the doctrines that shape the world of any single group of people.

A source in Congress said, “It is expected that the HHS Civil Rights Office would devote resources and personnel to enforcing the new guidelines and ensuring compliance.”

A government agency with the name, Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom, sounds uncomfortably close to Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the enforcer of Shariah law in Saudi Arabia. Should an agency of the United States, which is not a religious state, establish a division whose purpose is, essentially, to enforce compliance with the tenets of one religious ideology or moral stance over another? Should our government be supporting anyone’s religious or moral convictions over anyone else’s?

On the one hand, the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion in the United States. But freedom extends equally to all Americans. The principles of freedom of religion and other civil rights do not define freedom to the extent that one suppresses the freedom of someone else who is lawfully enjoying theirs.

One could argue that requiring health care workers to provide care or services that conflict with their religious beliefs or moral stance constitutes suppression of freedom for the health care worker. Which set of moral or religious beliefs should take precedence, then?

And how does one arrive at the idea that requiring a health care provider to administer health care (which it is their job to do) discriminates against the health care provider, if the health care service itself does not violate the law? Abortion, for example, is legal. Shouldn’t people who enter a profession perform the lawful duties and services that apply to their profession?

The establishment of the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom raises additional questions:

  • Isn’t the refusal to provide health care services to certain groups the equivalent of saying that they don’t deserve health care?
  • Does this new division, established to protect religious freedom, really protect every health care worker to act in his or her conscience, or does it just protect them if their conscience conforms to certain ideologies?
  • Will the Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom also protect an objecting health care worker who refuses to even refer a person to a provider who won’t object to treating them?
  • Can the the U.S. government, in good conscience, really “devote resources and personnel” to the enforcement of compliance with this, while not addressing crucial issues such as affordable and accessible health care for Americans?
  • Will those who are opposed to a patient’s religious convictions (let’s say, “Christian,” for this example) be allowed to refuse to treat that person?

The HHS Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom perches on a slippery slope. The fact that it not only allows a health care worker to refuse to treat a patient based on personal beliefs, but enforces that stance, should scare us.

OCR New Conscience and Religious Freedom Division Announcement | U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [2018-01-18]

HHS Expected to Unveil ‘Conscience Protections’ | Hot Trending [2018-01-17]