Trump’s Administration Cancels Soccer, School and Legal Assistance for Migrant Children Staying in Shelters

Citing budget constraints, the Office of Refugee Resettlement is cancelling funding for activities that have been deemed “not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety".
The Trump Administration announced last week that it is cutting English classes, recreational activities and legal aid for unaccompanied minors living in federal migrant shelters, saying that the immigration influx at the southern border has created critical budget pressures. Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Mark Weber told The Washington Post that 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,” including soccer. The newspaper obtained emails sent to licensed shelters by an HHS official, wherein the latter stated that that the government will not pay for education or recreational activities retroactive to May 22, including related personnel costs. The email says, "All costs budgeted for recreational or educational activities including personnel associated with these activities are unallowable costs for drawdowns."
Trump’s Administration Cancels Soccer, School and Legal Assistance for Migrant Children Staying in Shelters

Trump’s Administration Cancels Soccer, School and Legal Assistance for Migrant Children Staying in Shelters

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 country has seen a record number of families and children coming in from Mexico, and U.S. authorities said more than 144,000 migrants were taken into custody in May 2019 - a 32% jump from the previous month. Figures show that children who arrived with or without a parent made up 40% of U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehensions in May. The move to cancel "non-essential" services for unaccompanied minors contradicts a 1997 federal court settlement, known as the Flores settlement agreement, which stipulates that shelters require education and recreation systems for minors in federal custody.
Trump’s Administration Cancels Soccer, School and Legal Assistance for Migrant Children Staying in Shelters

The settlement mandates that any shelter holding unaccompanied minors should provide educational services in a classroom setting Monday through Friday. The classes should focus on the development of basic academic competencies and English. Carlos Holguin, a lawyer who represented children in a case that spurred the Flores settlement, slammed the cuts as illegal, telling The Washington Post, "We’ll see them in court if they go through with it." He added that schooling and exercise are fundamental to the care of young children, saying, “What’s next? Drinking water? Food? . . . Where are they going to stop?”
Trump’s Administration Cancels Soccer, School and Legal Assistance for Migrant Children Staying in Shelters

Trump’s Administration Cancels Soccer, School and Legal Assistance for Migrant Children Staying in Shelters

Helena Olea, a human rights advisor with Alianza Americas, a network of Latin American and Caribbean groups in the US, told The Independent, “This is also the start of the process of preparing those young people to integrate into the US,” referring to the resources that were announced canceled. “By doing this, the Trump administration is saying it does not want those children to be here. It’s going to result in a mental health crisis for those unaccompanied minors.” Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), an advocacy organization that provides pro-bono legal help to migrant children, told USA Today, “The court that oversees the Flores Agreement has been consistently very strong in standing up for the appropriate care of these children. So, I think this is easily challenged in federal court and it could be successful if it came to that.” Young also disagreed with the statement's implication that legal counsel was not an essential service 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.
Trump’s Administration Cancels Soccer, School and Legal Assistance for Migrant Children Staying in Shelters

A shelter employee who asked to remain anonymous said that 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. “What are you going to do all day?” the employee asked The Washington Post. “If you’re not going to have any sort of organized recreation or physical activity, what are you going to do, just let them sit in their rooms?” A large percentage of the unaccompanied minors who are incarcerated at the shelters are fleeing gang violence and poverty in Central America, and the services they receive at the shelters are meant to be part of their recovery as they await placement. Wendy Young also urged that Congress prioritize allotting additional funds for the shelters. “Bottom line, Congress needs to appropriate money for the Office of Refugee Resettlement so they can do their job well,” she told USA Today. “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.”
Trump’s Administration Cancels Soccer, School and Legal Assistance for Migrant Children Staying in Shelters

Border Patrol has apprehended 56,278 unaccompanied children since the start of the fiscal year in October. HHS is reportedly trying to get an emergency appropriation of $2.88 billion to increase shelter capacity. Unaccompanied children detained at the border by DHS agents are sent to ORR shelters. From there, the agency tries to place the children with sponsors, usually family members.