ICE arrested 170 potential sponsors of unaccompanied migrant children

(CNN) -- US Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 170 potential sponsors of unaccompanied minors who were in government custody from late July to late November, according to numbers released on Monday.

Of those arrested, 109 — about 64% — had no criminal record but were suspected of being in the US unlawfully, and 61 — about 36% — were classified as "criminal aliens," according to ICE.

The arrests stemmed from background checks done by ICE for the Department of Health and Human Services on potential sponsors for unaccompanied children. HHS is responsible for the care of migrant children who enter the US illegally until they can be released to family or a suitable sponsor is found.

During the approximately four-month period, background checks revealed that about 80% of all potential sponsors were undocumented.

The San Francisco Chronicle first reported the numbers.

In April, the Department of Homeland Security and HHS signed an information sharing memorandum on unaccompanied minors for the purpose of providing "HHS with information necessary to conduct suitability assessments for sponsors from appropriate federal, state, and local law enforcement and immigration sources."

In September, CNN reported that ICE arrested 41 people who had come forward as sponsors for minor children in government custody and, at the time, an ICE official said 70% of those arrests were for immigration violations. It was the first time ICE confirmed it was arresting potential sponsors of children in government custody for potential immigration violations.

The individuals could have been the children's parents or family members, and they also could have merely been fellow members of the homes of adults who applied to care for the children as they fight for a legal right to stay in the US.

Undocumented children who arrive in the US by themselves will often seek to be placed with relatives who may also be living in the US illegally. The Trump administration has described this process as a circumvention of law in order to exploit more lenient policies for children, even labeling it the "smuggling" of children.

But, advocates who work with the children and the attorneys who represent them say many of these children are fleeing extremely dangerous situations in their home countries and have legitimate claims to stay in the US that could take years to pursue. Family and friends already in the US can provide stable homes for them as they pursue those avenues of legal status, immigration advocates believe.