Trump Admin Eliminates Educational Programs and Legal Aid for Undocumented Children

The Trump administration is cutting the budget for schooling, recreational programs, and legal aid for unaccompanied minors in federal custody. The federal government blamed the influx of migrants at the US-Mexico border for creating a strain on the budget and forcing the cuts.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has asked federal migrant shelters across the country to begin discontinuing funding for activities such as soccer and English classes for undocumented minors. Administration for Children and Families (ACF) spokesperson Evelyn Stauffer told The North Star in a statement that the crisis at the border has put a strain on the ORR’s budget. “As we have said, we have a humanitarian crisis at the border brought on by a broken immigration system that is putting tremendous strain on the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and its Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program,” Stauffer said in an email. “ORR is facing a dramatic spike in referrals of UAC.”

More than a month ago, the administration told Congress that Health and Human Services (HHS) was seeking an emergency appropriation of $2.88 billion to increase shelter capacity in order to meet the needs of unaccompanied minors in custody. HHS spokesman Mark Weber told The Washington Post that the program could run out of money by late June; therefore, the agency is legally required to redirect funding to essential services.

Stauffer said that ORR instructed grantees to begin scaling back or discontinue awards for UAC activities “that are not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety.” The restrictions apply to funds awarded after May 22 and will remain in effect until further notice, The New York Times reported. A record number of families and children have crossed the southern border from Mexico. On June 5, authorities said that more than 144,000 migrants were taken into custody in May. According to The Washington Post, there was a 32 percent month-over-month increase in the number of migrants arrested in May — the largest one-month arrest total during the Trump administration.

The latest numbers from US Customs and Border Protection show that more than 11,000 unaccompanied minors crossed into the US in May. Border Patrol apprehended 56,278 unaccompanied minors between October and May. Kica Matos, the director of the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Immigration Justice (CIJ), expressed concern over the directive in a statement to The North Star. The organization manages the legal aid programs for the federal government.

“We are deeply troubled that any services are being cut for children, who are among the most vulnerable population of immigrants in detention,” Matos said. “We are also deeply concerned about the lack of funding for ORR and how it might impact a much needed range of services that are so desperately needed right now.”

The CIJ contracts with legal services across the country to provide representation for unaccompanied minors in detention centers. It has not been informed whether current legal services will be cut, Matos said.

The decision to cut services for unaccompanied minors may be breaking the Flores Agreement, a 1997 federal court settlement and state-licensing requirement that, among other provisions, mandates education and recreation for minors in federal custody, The Washington Post reported. Attorney Carlos Holguin, who led the lawsuit that resulted in the Flores Agreement, told The Post that education and recreational activities are “fundamental to the care of youngsters.”

The Flores Agreement, which arose from the California case of Flores v. Reno, was the basis of a recent court document filed in California by attorneys for several human rights law groups. The lengthy court document outlined the “prison-like” environment that migrant children live in at a detention center in Homestead, Florida. Children being held at the controversial detention center — which houses 2,350 children and continues to expand — told lawyers they were distressed to the point of harming themselves. The court document also pointed out that children were being held longer than the 20 days allowed under the Flores Agreement.

In February, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border and asked Congress to pass $4.5 billion in emergency border funding.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.