The Trump Administration Is Using Migrant Children As Bait

Recently, the New York Times reported that the number of migrant children in detention has skyrocketed.

Population levels at federally contracted shelters for migrant children have quietly shot up more than fivefold since last summer, according to data obtained by The New York Times, reaching a total of 12,800 this month. There were 2,400 such children in custody in May 2017.

That is why we have yet another story about how the Trump administration is shifting money from other programs to pay for detaining these children.

The Department of Health and Human Services is diverting millions of dollars in funding from a number of programs, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, to pay for housing for the growing population of detained immigrant children.

In a letter sent to Sen. Patty Murray, D.-Wash., and obtained by Yahoo News, HHS Secretary Alex Azar outlined his plan to reallocate up to $266 million in funding for the current fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, to the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program in the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

Nearly $80 million of that money will come from other refugee support programs within ORR, which have seen their needs significantly diminished as the Trump administration makes drastic cuts to the annual refugee numbers. The rest is being taken from other programs, including $16.7 million from Head Start, $5.7 million from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program and $13.3 million from the National Cancer Institute. Money is also being diverted from programs dedicated to mental and maternal health, women’s shelters and substance abuse.

The increase in the number of migrant children being detained isn’t related to a surge in the number attempting to cross our southern border. Instead, as Matt Shuman notes, it’s related to a change in policy.

That’s partly the result of a new policy, implemented by the Trump administration, requiring relatives in the United States who’d like to sponsor migrant children out of the government’s custody to provide fingerprints for a government background check.

When asked whether that move would discourage family members from coming forward to apply for custody of these children, here’s how an HHS official responded:

“If somebody is unwilling to claim their child from custody because they’re concerned about their own immigration status, I think that, de facto, calls into question whether they’re an adequate sponsor and whether we should be releasing a child to that person,” said Steven Wagner, the acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families at HHS.

It’s obvious that having a sense of compassion isn’t part of the job description at HHS these days.

As it turns out, family members have very good reason to be wary.

Federal officers have arrested dozens of immigrants who came forward to take care of immigrant children in government custody, and the Trump administration is pledging to go after more.

The news will serve as confirmation of the worst fears of immigrants and their advocates: that a recent move by President Donald Trump’s administration to more fully vet people who come forward to care for undocumented immigrant children who are alone in the US has been a way for the administration to track down and arrest more undocumented immigrants.

While the Trump administration may have formally ended their family separation policy, they are now using migrant children as bait to “track down and arrest more undocumented immigrants.”

If you ever wondered whether there are depths to which this administration will not go to implement their deport ’em all strategy, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there isn’t.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .