Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are fingerprinting unaccompanied immigrant children as young as 14 who are not in their custody but are in shelters across the country, BuzzFeed News reported.
ICE officials called it a way to protect unaccompanied minors in custody, the news outlet reported.
"In January, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued field guidance to juvenile coordinators to work with Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to identify and collect fingerprints on unaccompanied alien children (UACs) at ORR facilities who are over the age of 14, to mitigate and prevent the risk of their victimization by human traffickers and smugglers, and to reduce misidentification," an unnamed senior ICE official told the news outlet in an email.
It is unclear if the collection is taking place across the country or in certain locations.
More than 7,800 child migrants released from shelters overseen by HHS to family members or other "sponsors" have not shown up for immigration court hearings and have "disappeared," an unnamed senior ICE official told Axios on Thursday.
The agency's move is intended, at least in part, "to mitigate and prevent the risk of their victimization by human traffickers and smugglers, and to reduce misidentification," that official told Axios.
Over the past year, the Trump administration has taken steps to ramp up the amount of biometric data collected on migrants — enabling them to more carefully track and, when necessary, quickly deport illegal immigrants.
In April 2019, Border Patrol began collecting fingerprints and other biometrics from more migrant children under 14 who crossed the border with their parents, the Associated Press reported.
And last month, Customs and Border Protection began a pilot program to collect DNA from some migrants in its custody, CNN reported.
HHS told Axios in a statement it has extensive vetting processes that do not allow migrant minors to be released to "known fugitives" and they provide ICE with the address and name of each released child's new caretaker.
"These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and HHS treats its responsibility for each child with the utmost care," HHS told Axios.
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