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Statement of National Immigrant Justice Center Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy

The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) calls on the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to urgently increase the pace of family reunifications for unaccompanied immigrant children in its custody. Several children now are known to have contracted COVID-19, including in Chicago.

NIJC is deeply concerned about the health and wellbeing of the children who are infected, as well as that of other children and shelter staff who have been exposed. ORR must immediately release as many children as possible, and allow them to reunite with caretakers in homes where they can safely follow local governments’ shelter-in-place guidelines.

In the Chicago area and across the country, many children remain unnecessarily at risk in ORR custody, because the Trump administration has obstructed their release to the family members and sponsors willing and waiting to care for them. Just as the administration has weaponized the current pandemic to block unaccompanied children from seeking protection at the southern U.S. border, the administration also has endangered the health and safety of children enduring this global health crisis in ORR shelters by refusing to allow them to reunite with eligible sponsors.

In addition to defending children from removal and providing them with access to legal services, NIJC is advocating for the reunification and release of children in ORR custody in the Chicago area and ensuring litigation options are available to those who face unnecessary delays in reunification. We call on ORR to immediately release as many children as possible in Chicago and nationwide.