The Trump administration has told the companies it contracts with to operate shelters for migrant youth to discontinue it’s educational and recreational programs and legal aid services.
As reported by The Washington Post, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official last week told “shelters across the country that the government will not pay for education or recreational activities retroactive to May 22, including related personnel costs.”
In a statement, HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement — which funds about 168 facilities in 23 states to house migrant minors who arrived in the country alone or were separated from their parent at the border — said it needs to focus resources on increasing the capacity to accommodate underage immigrants arriving at the border.
“This week, ORR instructed grantees to begin scaling back or discontinuing awards for (unaccompanied migrant children) activities that are not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation,” HHS spokesperson Evelyn Stauffer said. “Additional resources are urgently required to meet the humanitarian needs created by this influx – to both sustain critical child welfare and release operations and increase capacity.”
Migrant youth are in those facilities are in the custody of the federal government and often pending placement with a guardian or a sponsor. HHS is required to place migrant children in “the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child.”
The shelters offer English classes mainly, and other core curriculum in math and science, and recreational activities like physical education classes or soccer. They also have case managers and mental and medical health services.
In Arizona, HHS-contracted shelters for migrant youth are licensed by the Arizona Department of Health Services as child behavioral health residential facilities.
ADHS spokesman Chris Minnick said the federal changes in services that are funded at migrant youth shelters don’t affect what the agency requires those operators to provide.
Representatives from Southwest Key and A New Leaf, which operate migrant youth shelters in Arizona, declined to comment.
In a statement, Lauren Dasse, executive director of the Florence Project (which provides free legal representation to migrant youth in immigration proceedings), said they’ll continue to support minors in government-funded shelters.
“The Florence Project has been working with immigrant children, many of whom have been abandoned, abused, or neglected, for nearly 20 years and last year served 7,290 children,” Dasse said. “We will continue to provide these critical services in the face of any obstacles that may stand in our way.”
Migrant children in shelters have often experience trauma, and the change in services will be detrimental to their health, said Esther Durán Lumm, a spokeswoman for the community group Uncage and Reunite Families Coalition.
“What are they going to if they don’t provide this? Those things are necessary,” she said. “To take away diversions like soccer, learning English, being taught other things… This is going to worsen the impact on their developing brains. It’s not right.”
Myron Scott, also a member of URFC, said, “I think it’s just another example of the administration making children suffer in order to deter immigration.”