Citing a tightening budget, the Trump administration announced Wednesday that it is cutting English classes, recreational activities and legal aid for unaccompanied minors living in federal migrant shelters.
The activities, including soccer games and ping-pong, are already coming to a halt. The Office of Refugee Resettlement began redirecting funds away from operations that “are not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety” this week, according to a statement from Evelyn Stauffer, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.
The Border Patrol announced Wednesday morning that it detained more than 132,000 people at the border last month — around 11,000 of whom were children traveling alone.
Tasked with sheltering a “growing number” of unaccompanied minors, federal officials say they are seeking a $2.9 billion appropriation from Congress. Stauffer said the program is “on pace to run out of funding and will need supplemental funding.”
Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., that provides pro bono legal help to migrant children, said education and recreational activities have become a part of federal migrant shelters over time. But they are now underpinned by federal law.
Both the Flores Agreement — a 1997 federal court settlement that established standards for the quality of housing and child care in migrant shelters — and the 2013 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act — which further defined standards of care for children in federal custody and guaranteed them legal counsel — could stand in opposition to this decision, Young said.
“The court that oversees the Flores Agreement has been consistently very strong in standing up for the appropriate care of these children,” Young said. “So, I think this is easily challenged in federal court and it could be successful if it came to that.”
Young disagrees with the statement’s omission of legal counsel as a service that’s necessary for the children’s safety.
“Legal services are a lifeline for these kids because many of them are fleeing severe violence and persecution in their home countries. Without a lawyer, they can’t prove their cases,” she said.
Regardless, Young urged Congress to allot additional funds for these shelters, and quickly.
“Bottom line, Congress needs to appropriate money for the Office of Refugee Resettlement so they can do their job well,” Young said. “And we need to really start working toward building a system that’s resistant and can withstand this fluctuation in numbers that we’ve been seeing over the past few years.”