Unaccompanied Alien Children:

Actions Needed to Ensure Children Receive Required Care in DHS Custody

GAO-15-521: Published: Jul 14, 2015. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 2015.

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What GAO Found

Within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has issued policies and procedures to evaluate, or screen, unaccompanied alien children (UAC)—those under 18 years old with no lawful immigration status and no parent or legal guardian in the United States available to provide care and physical custody—as required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA). However, CBP's Border Patrol agents and Office of Field Operations (OFO) officers who screen UAC have not consistently applied the required screening criteria or documented the rationales for decisions resulting from screening. Specifically, under TVPRA, DHS is to transfer UAC to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), but may allow UAC from Canada and Mexico to return to their home countries, that is, to be repatriated, if DHS determines that UAC (1) are not victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons, (2) are not at risk of trafficking upon return, (3) do not have a fear of returning due to a credible fear of persecution, and (4) are able to make an independent decision about returning. GAO found that agents made inconsistent screening decisions, had varying levels of awareness about how they were to assess certain screening criteria, and did not consistently document the rationales for their decisions. For example, CBP policy states that UAC under age 14 are presumed generally unable to make an independent decision, but GAO's analysis of CBP data and a random sample of case files from fiscal year 2014 found that CBP repatriated about 93 percent of Mexican UAC under age 14 from fiscal years 2009 through 2014 without documenting the basis for decisions. Providing guidance on how CBP agents and officers are to assess against UAC screening criteria could better position CBP to meet legal screening requirements, and ensuring that agents document the rationales for decisions would better position CBP to review the appropriateness of these decisions.

DHS has policies in place to implement UAC care requirements, such as providing meals, and GAO's observations and interviews at 15 CBP facilities indicate that CBP generally provided care consistent with these policies at the time of GAO's visits. However, DHS does not collect complete and reliable data on care provided to UAC or the length of time UAC are in DHS custody. GAO analyzed available data on care provided to nearly 56,000 UAC apprehended by Border Patrol in fiscal year 2014 and found that agents documented 14 of 20 possible care actions for fewer than half of the UAC (the remaining 6 actions were documented for more than 50 percent of the UAC). Also, OFO has a database to record UAC care, but officers at most ports of entry do not do so. Developing and implementing processes to help ensure agents and officers record UAC care actions would provide greater assurance that DHS is meeting its care and custody requirements. Further, the interagency process to refer and transfer UAC from DHS to HHS is inefficient and vulnerable to errors because it relies on e-mails and manual data entry, and documented standard procedures, including defined roles and responsibilities, do not exist. DHS and HHS have experienced errors, such as assigning a child to two shelters at once, and holding an empty bed for 14 days at a shelter while HHS officials had placed the child elsewhere. Jointly developing a documented interagency process with defined roles and responsibilities could better position DHS and HHS to have a more efficient and effective process to refer, transfer, and place UAC in shelters.

Why GAO Did This Study

From fiscal years 2009 through 2014, DHS apprehended more than 200,000 UAC, and the number of UAC apprehended in fiscal year 2014 (about 74,000) was more than four times larger than that for fiscal year 2011 (about 17,000). On the journey to the United States, many UAC have traveled thousands of miles under dangerous conditions.

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 included a provision for GAO to, among other things, review how DHS cares for UAC. This report examines, among other things, the extent to which DHS has developed policies and procedures to (1) screen all UAC as required and (2) care for all UAC as required. GAO reviewed TVPRA and other legal requirements, DHS policies for screening and caring for UAC, fiscal year 2009 through 2014 apprehension data on UAC, and 2014 Border Patrol UAC care data. GAO also randomly sampled and analyzed case files of Mexican UAC whom Border Patrol apprehended in fiscal year 2014. GAO interviewed DHS and HHS officials in Washington, D.C., and at Border Patrol and OFO facilities in Arizona, California, and Texas selected on the basis of UAC apprehension data.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DHS, among other things, provide guidance on how agents and officers are to apply UAC screening criteria, ensure that screening decisions are documented, develop processes to record reliable data on UAC care, and document the interagency process to transfer UAC from DHS to HHS. DHS concurred with the recommendations.

For more information, contact Rebecca Gambler at (202) 512-8777 or gamblerr@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: The Office of Field Operations (OFO) within U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), in collaboration with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, conducted a "Train-the-Trainer" conference in August 2015 that focused on juvenile and unaccompanied alien children (UAC). The conference, among other things, addressed screening requirements for UAC consistent with Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA). CBP officers who received this additional training were then responsible for training other officers who process UAC at the ports of entry. According to CBP, while the conference was comprehensive, it did not fully encompass CBP's needs. In June 2016, CBP reported that OFO, Office of Chief Counsel, and a headquarters-level working group on UAC issues were finalizing a revised Form CBP 93 and with that were developing a detailed, relevant Train-the-Trainer course for officers responsible for TVPRA at all CBP ports of entry. In December 2016, CBP notified GAO that OFO, in coordination with CBP's Office of Training and Development, was concluding the design and embarking on the development phase of a distance learning course, tentatively entitled "Processing, Holding, and Transfer of Unaccompanied Alien Children by CBP." This course will be an annual requirement for all OFO officers. In April 2017, CBP reported that OFO was no longer pursuing a separate Train-the-Trainer course for CBP officers at air ports of entry. However, CBP continues to develop a new UAC training course. The new course is a collaborative effort between OFO and USBP, in consultation with CBP's Office of Chief Counsel, and in partnership with CBP's Office of Training and Development (OTD) to develop, deconflict, and revise training consistent with requirements under TVPRA, specifically outlining rules to identify and screen UAC, among other things. In August 2018, CBP notified GAO that CBP finalized its updates to the CBP Form 93, in accordance with GAO's other recommendations. CBP reported that it used the reference guidance for the Form 93 to develop the training. As of July 2019, CBP officials reported that they are testing and evaluating the training course and expect it to be finalized by December 31, 2019. To fully address this recommendation, CBP needs to ensure that OFO officers at airports who have substantive contact with UAC complete this training.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that DHS complies with TVPRA requirements for training, screening, and transferring UAC to HHS, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to develop and implement TVPRA training for OFO officers at airports who have substantive contact with UAC.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2015, we reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Form 93-the primary tool CBP's Border Patrol agents and Office of Field Operations officers use to screen UAC and document the resulting assessments did not include indicators or questions for all Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) screening criteria that they are to assess before repatriating an unaccompanied alien child. First, we found that the form did not provide indicators or suggested questions for agents and officers to use to assess, in accordance with CBP policy, whether unaccompanied alien children (UAC) from Canada and Mexico are able to make an independent decision to withdraw their application for admission to the United States and return to their countries of origin. Second, we found that the Form 93 did not include indicators or questions for assessing whether there was credible evidence that the UAC are at risk of being trafficked upon return to their countries of origin-a screening requirement under TVPRA and CBP policy. Therefore, we recommended that CBP revise the Form 93 to include indicators or questions that agents and officers should ask UAC to better assess (1) a child's ability to make an independent decision to withdraw his or her application for admission to the United States and (2) credible evidence of the child's risk of being trafficked if returned to his or her country of nationality or last habitual residence. In response, in August 2018, CBP finalized a revised Form 93 that included new questions agents and officers are to consider when assessing a UAC's ability to make an independent decision and whether there is credible evidence of the risk of the UAC being trafficked upon their return to their country of origin. By revising the Form 93, CBP should be better able to better ensure that agents and officers have the necessary information to determine outcomes for UAC that are consistent and in accordance with TVPRA requirements and CBP policy.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that DHS complies with TVPRA requirements for training, screening, and transferring UAC to HHS, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to revise the Form 93 to include indicators or questions that agents and officers should ask UAC to better assess (1) a child's ability to make an independent decision to withdraw his or her application for admission to the United States and (2) credible evidence of the child's risk of being trafficked if returned to his or her country of nationality or last habitual residence.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to another recommendation, in August 2018, CBP finalized a revised Form 93 which Border Patrol and OFO incorporated into their automated data systems. To accompany the revised form, CBP developed a reference guide. The reference guide clarifies the four fear of return questions on the CBP Form 93. It also provides alternate questions Border Patrol agents and CBP officers can ask to elicit a response from the UAC. Further, the guidance provides examples of follow up questions that may assist agents and officers in assessing whether the child has a fear of return. Moreover, the reference guide clarifies that agents and officers must not judge or review the nature of the fear; all UACs who claim fear of return are to be transferred to HHS. In July 2019, the Border Patrol Chief directed agents to begin using the revised form and referred agents to the reference guide for additional information. In addition, in September 2019, OFO provided evidence that it had posted the guidance to its internal website as a reference for officers. By developing and implementing such guidance, CBP can better ensure that Border Patrol agents and CBP officers have the necessary information to determine outcomes for UAC that are consistent and in accordance with TVPRA requirements and CBP policy.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that DHS complies with TVPRA requirements for training, screening, and transferring UAC to HHS, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to provide guidance to Border Patrol agents and OFO officers that clarifies how they are to implement the TVPRA requirement to transfer to HHS all Mexican UAC who have fear of returning to Mexico owing to a credible fear of persecution.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2018, CBP finalized a revised Form 93, which Border Patrol and OFO incorporated into their automated data systems. To accompany the revised form, CBP developed a reference guide. The reference guide includes potential human trafficking indicators and questions Border patrol agents and OFO officers are to ask UACs to help them determine if the UAC may have been a victim or is at risk of becoming a victim of a trafficking if repatriated. Further, the reference guide provides examples of responses that may indicate the UAC has been or might be trafficked in the future. In addition, the reference guide states that after reviewing the evidence, Border Patrol agents and CBP officers must determine if a UAC from Canada or Mexico may be a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons or is at risk of being trafficked if repatriated. In July 2019, the Border Patrol Chief directed agents to begin using the revised form and referred agents to the reference guide for additional information. In addition, in September 2019, OFO provided evidence that it had posted the guidance to its internal website as a reference for officers. CBP also reported that it is developing a training that outlines the rules to identify and screen UAC for trafficking in persons, which it expects to complete in December 2019. CBP's guidance on how Border Patrol agents and CBP officers are to implement the TVPRA requirement to transfer to HHS all UAC that are nationals or habitual residents of contiguous territory who are victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons will better ensure agents and officers can make consistent and informed screening decisions.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that DHS complies with TVPRA requirements for training, screening, and transferring UAC to HHS, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to develop and implement guidance on how Border Patrol agents and OFO officers are to implement the TVPRA requirement to transfer to HHS all Canadian and Mexican UAC who are victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2018, CBP finalized a revised Form 93 that included new questions agents and officers are to consider when assessing a UAC's ability to make an independent decision and whether there is credible evidence of the risk of the UAC being trafficked upon their return to their country of origin. The questions are embedded within the revised Form 93, and Border Patrol agents are required to ask and record them, according to documentation CBP provided to GAO in August 2019. Further, the Form 93 includes sections requiring Border Patrol agents to document the basis for their independent decision and trafficking assessments. According to Border Patrol training documentation from March 2019, the form will not save successfully in CBP's electronic system if it has errors, and agents and officers must remedy any errors in order to save and continue. Ensuring that Border Patrol agents consistently document the rationales for their decisions regarding the independent decision and trafficking criteria will allow CBP management to assess on an agency-wide basis whether these decisions, which account for case-by-case factors, were justified and consistent with TVPRA and CBP policy.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that DHS complies with TVPRA requirements for training, screening, and transferring UAC to HHS, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to ensure that Border Patrol agents document the basis for their decisions when assessing screening criteria related to (1) an unaccompanied alien child's ability to make an independent decision to withdraw his or her application for admission to the United States, and (2) whether UAC are victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2015, we reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not know the extent to which Border Patrol agents and Office of Field Operations (OFO) officers, who have substantive contact with unaccompanied alien children (UAC), had completed required UAC training. At the time of our report, CBP officials stated that CBP's training system tracked the number of agents and officers who complete a course, but did not have data on the total number of agents and officers who should have taken the course. We recommended that CBP determine which agents and officers are required to complete the annual UAC training, and ensure that they do so, as required. In response, on July 1, 2015, the Assistant Commissioner for OFO disseminated a memorandum to all OFO field office directors regarding the mandatory annual UAC training requirement. The Assistant Commissioner directed all field offices to ensure that officers completed the required training by December 31, 2015 (the memo also specified which officers are required to complete the training). On July 31, 2015, the Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol disseminated a memorandum to all Chief Patrol Agents and Directorate Chiefs for dissemination to all uniformed personnel, including supervisors, regarding the mandatory annual UAC training requirement. CBP also implemented a new learning management system mandated by DHS on July 13, 2015, through which online training courses are offered to all CBP employees. In 2016, DHS added a feature to this system that provided the capability to produce reports on courses completed by CBP employees. CBP provided data to us on the numbers of agents in 2016 and officers in 2016 and 2017 who had completed the required UAC training course. These data indicate that CBP has taken steps to ensure that agents and officers are taking the annual UAC training, as required. Determining which agents and officers are required to complete the annual UAC training, and ensuring that they have done so, as required, should help CBP to meet training requirements under the law and CBP policies and guidance.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that DHS complies with TVPRA requirements for training, screening, and transferring UAC to HHS, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to determine which agents and officers who have substantive contact with UAC, complete the annual UAC training, and ensure that they do so, as required.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2015, we reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had policies in place to implement care requirements, such as providing meals, for unaccompanied alien children (UAC) in its custody; however, DHS did not collect complete and reliable data on care provided to UAC. In particular, we reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Office of Field Operations (OFO) had an automated database to record UAC care, but OFO officers at most ports of entry did not do so. Thus, we recommended that CBP require OFO officers to record care provided to UAC in an automated manner. In response, in October 2015, OFO issued a muster and memorandum requiring officers to record information in its automated system, such as when UAC received food and medical care. In addition, OFO provided an instructional briefing to OFO officers on entering data in its automated system related to care provided to UAC. Further, OFO enhanced its automated system to record care provided to UAC by capturing and tracking data at a transactional and aggregate level, and adding a control in the system to make certain custody fields mandatory. As a result, OFO has required its officers to record care provided to UAC in its automated system and has implemented system controls to help ensure that this information is recorded. Requiring OFO officers to record UAC care actions should help provide greater assurance that DHS is meeting its care and custody requirements.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that CBP has complete and reliable data needed to ensure compliance with care requirements under the Flores Agreement and CBP policies, the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection should require that OFO officers record care provided to UAC in an automated manner.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Customs and Border Protection

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2015, we reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had policies in place to implement care requirements, such as providing meals, for unaccompanied alien children (UAC) in its custody; however, DHS did not collect complete and reliable data on care provided to UAC. In particular, we reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Border Patrol agents did not routinely or accurately record care actions in the agency's automated system, as required by Border Patrol policy. Thus, we recommended that Border Patrol ensure that Border Patrol agents record care provided to UAC in its automated system. In response, USBP has taken steps to modify its automated system to eliminate errors such as those noted in our report. In particular, Border Patrol created a function in its automated system to provide agents with the capability to see any outstanding care actions that their station needs to perform, including welfare checks and meals. This function will also alert agents when UAC are in Border Patrol custody for greater than 72 hours. Further, Border Patrol worked with CBP's Management Inspections Division (MID) to incorporate new internal controls to ensure that agents are recording care actions, as required, including conducting internal audits of the data in the automated system. According to USBP officials, CBP's MID performed these audits in 2017. We reviewed documentation of these reviews, which indicate that Border Patrol agents are generally complying with the requirement to record care provided to UAC in Border Patrol's automated system, as required. As a result, Border Patrol has required its agents to record care provided to UAC in its automated system and has implemented controls to help ensure that this information is recorded. Requiring Border Patrol agents to record UAC care actions should help provide greater assurance that DHS is meeting its care and custody requirements.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that CBP has complete and reliable data needed to ensure compliance with care requirements under the Flores Agreement and CBP policies, the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection should ensure that Border Patrol agents record care provided to UAC in Border Patrol's automated system, as required.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Customs and Border Protection

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2015, we reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could not accurately determine how long unaccompanied alien children (UAC) were in custody with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Office of Field Operations (OFO) because OFO did not collect complete and reliable information on the dates and times during which UAC came into and left its custody. Specifically, we reported that OFO's data system automatically generated a book-in date and time when officers entered a UAC apprehension in the system, but OFO officials told us that their system did not have a field to record when UAC left OFO custody. OFO had a "time out" field in its system, but officers were not required to use it. Therefore, we recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security require OFO officers to record data in their automated system when UAC left OFO custody in order to track the length of time UAC were in OFO custody. In response, in December 2015, OFO updated the "time out" feature in its system, so that the "time out" is automatically populated with a time stamp when an action takes place, such as when UAC are released or transported from OFO custody. In addition, according to CBP officials, any subsequent edits to the "time out" recorded by the time stamp must be approved by a supervisor at the port of entry. Requiring officers to accurately record time-in and time-out should help ensure that OFO has data necessary to determine UAC's time in custody.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that DHS has complete and reliable data needed to ensure compliance with the UAC time-in-custody requirement under TVPRA and for required reports on UAC time in custody under the Flores Agreement, the Secretary of Homeland Security should require OFO officers to record data in their automated system when UAC leave OFO custody in order to track the length of time UAC are in OFO custody.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2015, we reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) did not collect complete or reliable data on the length of time unaccompanied alien children (UAC) were in DHS custody. In particular, we reported that DHS's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had a user manual describing how to book in and book out subjects, including UAC, and ICE officials stated that they covered the proper use of these fields during monthly conference calls and annual training. However, ICE did not have a policy that required officers to record book-in or book-out dates and times for UAC in its custody. We also reported that ICE headquarters officials told us officers often entered book-out dates and times into the system a day or more after UAC had been transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services because officers may have waited to enter the data until after they traveled back to their office. Therefore, ICE officials stated that this delayed data entry affected the precision of the book-out times recorded in the system and made them unreliable. Thus, we recommended that the Secretary of Homeland Security require ICE officers to record accurate and reliable data in their automated system when UAC leave ICE custody in order to track the length of time UAC are in ICE custody. In response, in a July 23, 2015 memo, ICE's Assistant Director for Custody Management, with concurrence from the Acting Assistant Director for Field Operations, provided instructions to all ICE Field Office Directors, Deputy Field Office Directors, and Field Office Juvenile Coordinators (FOJCs) for processing UAC. The memo stated that FOJCs or assigned officers must immediately book UAC into ICE's automated system upon the UAC's transfer into ICE custody (including ICE transportation contractors). The instructions state that no more than 4 hours may elapse without recording the UAC's time in ICE custody. Further, the instructions stated that, when ICE transfers UAC to a new location, FOJCs or other assigned officers must also ensure that ICE's automated system is updated to reflect the exact location of the transfer. In September 2017, ICE issued a juvenile processing handbook to provide detailed instructions for officers in processing and managing juvenile cases. The new instructions regarding book in and book out procedures were included in the handbook. Requiring that ICE officers record accurate and reliable data in their automated system should help DHS in meeting the time-in-custody requirements for UAC.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that DHS has complete and reliable data needed to ensure compliance with the UAC time-in-custody requirement under TVPRA and for required reports on UAC time in custody under the Flores Agreement, the Secretary of Homeland Security should require ICE officers to record accurate and reliable data in their automated system when UAC leave ICE custody in order to track the length of time UAC are in ICE custody.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  11. Status: Open

    Comments: In February 2016, DHS and HHS finalized a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that was meant to provide a framework for interagency coordination on the responsibilities of the parties in coordinating and establishing procedures, shared goals, and interagency cooperation with respect to UAC. The MOA stated that DHS and HHS agreed to establish a Joint Concept of Operations (JCO) that should be completed no later than one year following the signing of the MOA. According to the MOA, the JCO was to include, among other things, standard protocols for consistent interagency cooperation on the care, processing, and transport of UAC during both steady state operations, as well as in the event the number of UAC exceeds the standard capabilities of the departments to process, transport, and/or shelter with existing resources. DHS submitted the JCO to GAO on September 26, 2018. GAO has reviewed the JCO, and supporting agency documentation, and met with officials in December 2018 to discuss steps DHS has taken to implement interagency processes, consistent with our recommendation. To fully address the recommendation, DHS should ensure that it has implemented procedures aimed at improving the efficiency and accuracy of the interagency UAC referral and placement process, as we recommended. We have ongoing work on related issues and, as of May 2019, we plan to reassess the status of DHS's efforts to address this recommendation later this year upon completion of our ongoing work.

    Recommendation: To increase the efficiency and improve the accuracy of the interagency UAC referral and placement process, the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services should jointly develop and implement a documented interagency process with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, as well as procedures to disseminate placement decisions, for all agencies involved in the referral and placement of UAC in HHS shelters.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  12. Status: Open

    Comments: In February 2016, DHS and HHS finalized a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that was meant to provide a framework for interagency coordination on the responsibilities of the parties in coordinating and establishing procedures, shared goals, and interagency cooperation with respect to UAC. The MOA stated that DHS and HHS agreed to establish a Joint Concept of Operations (JCO) that should be completed no later than one year following the signing of the MOA. According to the MOA, the JCO was to include, among other things, standard protocols for consistent interagency cooperation on the care, processing, and transport of UAC during both steady state operations, as well as in the event the number of UAC exceeds the standard capabilities of the departments to process, transport, and/or shelter with existing resources. DHS submitted the JCO to GAO on September 26, 2018. GAO has reviewed the JCO, and supporting agency documentation, and met with DHS officials in December 2018 and HHS officials in March 2019 to discuss steps DHS and HHS have taken to implement interagency processes, consistent with our recommendation. To fully address the recommendation, HHS should ensure that it has implemented procedures aimed at improving the efficiency and accuracy of the interagency UAC referral and placement process, as we recommended. We have ongoing work on related issues and, as of May 2019, we plan to reassess the status of HHS's efforts to address this recommendation later this year upon completion of our ongoing work.

    Recommendation: To increase the efficiency and improve the accuracy of the interagency UAC referral and placement process, the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services should jointly develop and implement a documented interagency process with clearly defined roles and responsibilities, as well as procedures to disseminate placement decisions, for all agencies involved in the referral and placement of UAC in HHS shelters.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

  13. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2015, we reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had entered into local arrangements with Mexican consulates to ensure the safe and humane repatriation of Mexican nationals, including unaccompanied alien children (UAC). However, the arrangements did not reflect minimum Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) requirements for agreements with Mexico with respect to the repatriation of UAC. These agreements are to be designed to protect children from severe forms of trafficking in persons and must, at minimum, provide that (1) no child shall be returned unless to appropriate officials, including child welfare officials where available; (2) no child shall be returned outside of reasonable business hours; and (3) border personnel of countries who are parties to the agreements are to be trained in the terms of the agreements. We found that fewer than one-third of the local repatriation arrangements contained provisions directing that no UAC be returned unless to appropriate employees or officials. Further, in terms of prohibiting the return of UAC outside of reasonable business hours, fewer than half of arrangements identified the hours during which UAC could be returned to Mexico. Last, none of the arrangements addressed the requirement that border personnel be trained in the terms of the repatriation arrangements. We recommended that DHS, in coordination with the Secretary of State, ensure that TVPRA requirements for these agreements are reflected in local repatriation arrangements. In response, as part of ongoing updates of the arrangements, DHS and the Government of Mexico finalized local repatriation arrangements covering the entire the U.S.-Mexico border in February 2016. On the basis of our analysis of the new arrangements, we found that they all reflected the minimum TVPRA requirements. As a result, DHS should be able to better ensure that Mexican children are repatriated safely.

    Recommendation: To ensure that minimum legislative requirements to protect UAC from severe forms of trafficking in persons are in repatriation agreements with Mexico and are met, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Secretary of State, should ensure that TVPRA requirements for these agreements are reflected in local repatriation arrangements as DHS renegotiates these arrangements with Mexico.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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