The Trump administration is canceling English classes, recreational programs and legal aid for unaccompanied minors staying in federal migrant shelters nationwide, saying the immigration influx at the southern border has created critical budget pressures, the Washington Post reports.
The Office of Refugee Resettlement has begun discontinuing the funding stream for activities that have been deemed “not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation,” said Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Mark Weber.
Federal officials have warned Congress that they are facing “a dramatic spike” in unaccompanied minors at the southern border and have asked Congress for $2.9 billion in emergency funding to expand shelters and care. The program could run out of money in late June, and the agency is legally obligated to direct funding to essential services, Weber said.
Surging migration at the southern border has been overwhelming the U.S. immigration system and has been fueling the budget strain at HHS facilities, as the country has been seeing a record number of families and children coming in from Mexico. On Wednesday, U.S. authorities said more than 144,000 migrants were taken into custody in May, a 32 percent jump from April and by far the largest one-month arrest total since President Trump took office, the Post adds.
The move to curtail services for unaccompanied minors, revealed in an email that an HHS official sent to licensed shelters last week, a message that has been obtained by The Washington Post, could run afoul of a federal court settlement and state-licensing requirements that mandate education and recreation for minors in federal custody.
An HHS official sent an email Thursday to shelters notifying them that the government will not pay for education or recreational activities retroactive to May 22, including related personnel costs. The official characterized those costs as “unallowable.”
A shelter employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to address the internal government directive, said the Trump administration’s cuts have alarmed workers, who fear that the quality of care for the children will suffer. The employee said educational classes and sports activities are crucial to maintaining physical and mental health while the children are in custody, the Post notes.
Democratic lawmakers and advocates for immigrants blasted the Trump administration for a policy decision that will directly affect children who already are in difficult situations. Many of the unaccompanied minors who appear at the border are fleeing gang violence and extreme poverty in Central America; the services they receive at U.S. shelters are part of their recovery and provide some amount of diversion as they await placement.