The US reached a settlement Thursday that establishes fingerprinting deadlines for parents and sponsors trying to get unaccompanied immigrant children out of government custody.
Under the settlement, which expires in two years, the government has seven days to schedule fingerprinting appointments and 10 days to finish processing them. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which houses immigrant children who cross the border alone, will also be required to regularly release reports that would, for the first time, track how long fingerprinting takes.
In 2018, the Trump administration started requiring every household member where an unaccompanied child would be living to undergo fingerprinting and an extensive background check, instead of only the sponsor. The policy also required that parents be fingerprinted, which had previously only been done when there was a safety concern.
The widened scope of who was required to be fingerprinted increased the amount of time immigrant children spent in ORR custody by weeks and in some cases even months.
Blanca Ortiz, a plaintiff in the case, said her two sons were in ORR custody for four months as a result of the policy.
“I’ll always remember the months when the government kept me separated from my two sons. There is no greater pain that can be caused than when you separate a child from their mother,” Ortiz said in a statement. “My sons suffered tremendously while in custody. I never, never want to go through this again, and I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. It is inhumane.”
The settlement’s deadlines establish measures that would make it difficult for a future administration to reinstate a fingerprinting policy like the one named in the lawsuit, said Stephen Kang, an attorney for the ACLU, which took part in the legal action.
“Even Trump’s ORR said this was not workable,” Kang said. “Our hope is that the settlement enshrines certain deadlines and time requirements for when fingerprints need to be processed.”
The Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately return a request for comment.
After the lawsuit was filed and following public outcry, the Trump administration reversed the background check policy in December 2018. At the time, HHS conceded and said the additional background checks generally failed to produce new information showing the child would be at risk. It only resulted in the unaccompanied children being held longer at shelters.
The New York Civil Liberties Union, the National Center for Youth Law, and the international law firm Morrison Foerster also took part in the lawsuit.