The Trump administration on Wednesday instructed shelters that house undocumented children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border that it would no longer pay for English-language instruction, recreational activities, including soccer, and access to legal aid.
The Department of Health and Human Services said a budget crisis caused by a massive influx of unaccompanied immigrant minors is forcing the agency to end paying for any services and activities not directly related to children’s safety.
“Additional resources are urgently required to meet the humanitarian needs created by this influx—to both sustain critical child welfare and release operations and increase capacity,” Evelyn Stauffer, a spokeswoman with the department’s administration for children and families, said in a statement.
The administration’s move was first reported by The Washington Post.
Educators and immigration advocates are decrying the decision as a blow to children already facing the strain of tremendous trauma.
“It is disappointing to learn that the few rights that have been extended to these children are now at risk of being completely eliminated,” said Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of Florida’s Miami-Dade school system. “This is the lowering of a bar that was already unacceptably low.”
Running Out of Money
Carvalho said federal officials have all but ignored his district’s efforts to work with shelters to provide educational services to the children. The nation’s largest holding facility for unaccompanied migrant children is in Homestead, Fla., which sits within the district’s boundaries. The facility already holds upward of 2,000 children.
The Health and Human Services agency says it currently has 13,200 children in its care. The Border Patrol said Wednesday that 11,500 children without a parent crossed the border just last month.
HHS said ending the services are necessary under the Antideficiency Act, which requires the department to prioritize safety when faced with a funding shortfall. The department has requested an emergency appropriation of nearly $3 billion from Congress to fund its refugee operations. The program is on pace to run out of funding in the coming weeks and will need supplemental funding, according to the agency.
“[I]t’s because of the numbers [of children],” said Jessica Vaughn, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for more restrictions on immigration. “Of course, we know the priorities have to be shelter and food and clothing and medical care. And the government is going to continue doing that.”
Under current law, migrant children who illegally cross into the United States must first be sent to a government shelter, where they stay until they can be united with relatives or other sponsors while awaiting immigration court hearings.
Tens of thousands of migrant children and youth have come from Central America in recent years—and many of them have ended up in public schools across the United States as they await their final fates in immigration proceedings.
While migrant children held in the detention centers are supposed to receive food, medical care, and schooling, there have been widely shared images of them housed inside fenced enclosures. Six migrant children have died while being held in U.S. custody since Trump took office.
Mandy Manning, the 2018 National Teacher of the Year who teaches immigrant students, was stunned by the administration’s latest move.
“I’m floored. These children were already receiving substandard education,” Manning said. “The burden will be transferred onto our communities and our public schools.”
‘Stacking the Deck’
For many children, the duration of time in government custody has grown increasingly longer, in part due to the new policies that make sponsors leery of coming forward because of concerns that they could become subject to immigration enforcement themselves.
One of the few regular activities available to children has been playing soccer. And now, that could be disappearing.
“In these centers the only glimmer of hope for these children is that they can play soccer in the evening,” said Linda Rivas, the executive director of the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Texas. And now that’s gone.”
Rivas also said stripping away access to lawyers wasn’t a surprise given what she called the Trump administration’s harsh stance on immigrants.
Tens of thousands of children have fled chaos in Central America. Now, many are living in communities and attending schools across the United States and face new risks and uncertain futures. Read the collection:
“Attorneys provide a layer of protection for vulnerable children,” she said. “It’s incredibly complicated for adults to understand the immigration process, it would be terrifying for children.”
A 1997 agreement between the federal government and advocates for immigrant children, known as the Flores settlement, specifies what education should look like for minors in detention; it includes English-language instruction and physical education—two of the services that this new directive would eliminate.
The Trump administration’s directive violates the legal protections guaranteed to these children under the Flores agreement, said Maura McInerney, the legal director at the Education Law Center in Philadelphia.
“We’re stacking the deck even more against these children,” said Jennifer de Hero, a lawyer at Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. “This is another reminder from the administration that they don’t value immigrant children.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 2019 edition of Education Week as Feds Call Off School, Soccer in Shelters