According to a request made by Axios through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), one out of every three migrant children or their sponsors could not be reached by phone call.
On Wednesday, Axios reported based on information obtained through an FOIA request that after making 14,600 required check-in calls between January and May of this year, 4,890 of those calls were found to be unsuccessful in reaching a minor migrant or their sponsor. Data given to Axios shows that the percentage of unsuccessful calls has grown from 26 percent in January to 37 percent in May.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Children and Families is responsible for the care and custody of migrant children. The agency conducts these calls 30 days after a child’s release “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,” according to the website.
Between President Biden’s inauguration on January 20 and May 31, more than 65,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the border illegally. Minors released from shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services are typically taken in by relatives or other vetted sponsors.
HHS discharged 32,000 children and teens over the course of the first five months of the year. However, according to the FOIA response, fewer than 15,000 follow-up calls were placed by the government. Agency data even indicates that in both March and April, the number of children released was double the amount of check-in calls the following month, which means that half the minors discharged may not have received a 30-day call.
The Trump administration was criticized in 2018 for not being able to account for around 1,500 children released from HHS custody over a three-month period. As of the end of May, there were around 4,500 such minors under the Biden administration.
An HHS spokesperson told Axios, “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.”
He added that many sponsors do not return calls or do not want to be reached. The government is currently investigating whether dozens of migrant children were released to labor traffickers, as reported by Bloomberg Law. This also happened in 2014 when migrant teens were discharged to traffickers and forced to work on an egg farm.
Mark Greenberg, who during the Obama administration oversaw the program for unaccompanied minors, said, “This is very dismaying. If large numbers of children aren’t being reached, that’s a very big gap in efforts to help them.”