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Feds Cut Services for Migrant Children in Detention

June 6, 2019

By Sandra G. Leon

The Trump White House has eliminated some services at shelters housing unaccompanied minor migrants that entered the country without parents.

The cuts will end English classes, recreational activities, legal aid, and other services “that are not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety,” according to a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) which oversees the Office of Refugee Relocation (ORR).

One of the most damaging cuts will be the end of legal services provided to minors to represent them in court hearings related to their legal status and also for reunification with family or sponsors. Without such legal aid, minors could go to court without any lawyer or representative.

Over 13,000 minors are currently being held in shelters run be private providers, some in converted big box stores, like Wal-Mart locations. The shelters are licensed by each state, which all require they provide education and recreation services.

Child advocates argue the latest cuts are illegal because the shelters would be violating the Flores Settlement, a 1997 agreement resulting from a lawsuit that challenged the way the federal government held unaccompanied minors.

The Flores settlement requires the government look for family members or other adults that can take the minors, limits the time minors can be held to only 20 days, and also requires support services, including education and recreation.

This week, Customs and Border Protection announced that 11,507 more unaccompanied minors were apprehended in May, setting a record for any month. The figure was more than double the 4,753 minors apprehended at the border in December, the lowest figure in the past year.

HHS says it had notified Congress that funding for these services would run out in May, and, so far, Congress has not allocated any new funds for these services. The White House has asked for $3 billion in additional funding for “shelter capacity in order to meet the needs of the minors in our custody while ORR works to find sponsors, usually family members, for the children.”

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