The Biden administration has lost contact with roughly one-third of migrant children caught and released between January and May, according to data obtained by Axios through a public records request.
Data received from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request showed about 1 in 3 migrant kids or their sponsors did not respond to calls in the first five months after President Joe Biden took office and restored a catch-and-release border policy for those who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
“This is very dismaying,” Mark Greenberg, who oversaw the unaccompanied minors program during the Obama administration, told Axios. “If large numbers of children and sponsors aren’t being reached, that’s a very big gap in efforts to help them.”
The Trump administration had moved to stop catch-and-release, having imposed a Remain in Mexico policy and utilized Title 42, restricting migration during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While we make every effort to voluntarily check on children after we unite them with parents or sponsors and offer certain post-unification services, we no longer have legal oversight once they leave our custody,” a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services told Axios, noting that sponsors do not tend to return phone calls and sometimes do not want to be contacted.
Of the 14,600 calls placed by the administration to children released from HHS border shelters, 4,890 went unanswered by the kids or their sponsors (33.49%), according to Axios.
Notably, the percentage of unsuccessful contacts grew from 26% in January to 37% in May, according to the data obtained.
And 65,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the border illegally from January to May, while July set an all-time record in that category, suggesting a growing problem of migrant children the administration cannot locate after being released into the country, according to Axios.
Further, the Biden administration is making far fewer calls than the totals of migrant children released into the U.S. From Biden’s inauguration through May, HHS released 32,000 children but only placed 14,600 calls, according to the records obtained via FOIA.
March and April both saw twice as many minors released as check-in calls placed the following month, suggesting the administration is not fully following up on the unaccompanied children.
By contrast, the Trump administration was heavily criticized by Democrats and the media for having lost track of 1,500 migrant children over a three-month period in 2018.
HHS’ Administration for Children and Families oversees migrant children and follows up after they are released with a 30-day call “to determine whether the child is still residing with the sponsor, is enrolled in or attending school, is aware of upcoming court dates, and is safe,” the agency website reads.