The Department of Health and Human Services is shifting millions of dollars designated for everything from cancer research to refugee resettlement programs in order to fund the detention of an increasing number of migrant children, the result of the Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policies.
In a letter to Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) obtained by Yahoo News, HHS Secretary Alex Azar accounts for the transfers: The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) — the HHS subagency responsible for housing migrant children in government custody — will be given nearly $80 million from other refugee programs, plus “$16.7 million from Head Start, $5.7 million from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program and $13.3 million from the National Cancer Institute,” among other transfers.
The transfers echo similar shifts in funds over the summer within the Department of Homeland Security to ICE, from FEMA, the Coast Guard and the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, among others.
ORR also houses children separated from their families after being arrested at the border, hundreds of whom remain in the government’s care months after the fact. TPM has reached out to Murray’s office to request a copy of the letter.
The New York Times reported earlier this month on the dramatic spike of children in ORR’s custody, despite the rate of arrests at the border staying roughly similar year-to-year, and currently below peaks in 2014 and 2016. Right now, about 12,800 children remain in government custody, up from 2,400 last May.
That’s partly the result of a new policy, implemented by the Trump administration, requiring relatives in the United States who’d like to sponsor migrant children out of the government’s custody to provide fingerprints for a government background check.
Those relatives, most of whom are undocumented themselves, are understandably wary of the new requirement. Asked about that wariness in a May phone call, an HHS official responded bluntly: “If somebody is unwilling to claim their child from custody because they’re concerned about their own immigration status, I think that, de facto, calls into question whether they’re an adequate sponsor.”
The Trump administration has also systematically over-classified migrant children as potential gang members, thus providing justification to keep them in custody longer and transfer them to adult custody upon their 18th birthdays.
“The story is fundamentally about a significant slowdown in children being released from care,” not about a surge in arrivals, former HHS official Mark Greenberg told Yahoo News. Azar, in his letter to Murray, wrote that “HHS is preparing for the trend of high capacity to continue,” Yahoo noted.
(Photo by Charlotte Kesl for The Washington Post via Getty Images: Adonias, 5, at his uncle’s home in Moultrie, Ga. on July 30, 2018. Adonias was allegedly injected with sedatives in an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter in Chicago. They are seeking asylum from Guatemala.)