The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is planning to divert millions of dollars in funding originally allocated for programs like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in order to pay for the growing number of detained immigrant children, according to an HHS letter obtained by Yahoo! News.
The letter was addressed to Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and outlined HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s plan to reallocate up to $266 million in funding for the current fiscal year, which ends in less than two weeks. The funding would go to the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program housed inside the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
Of the $266 million, $80 million will come from other refugee programs within HHS that have faced serious budget cuts as the Trump administration continuously reduces the number of refugees admitted to the U.S.
The remainder will come from programs like Head Start, an HHS-funded initiative that provides early-childhood education to low-income pre-kindergartners. Nearly $6 million will be pulled from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, and $13.3 million from the National Cancer Institute. According to the letter, funding for programs dedicated to mental and maternal health is also being reallocated, as is money for women’s shelters and substance abuse programs.
The news comes just one week after it was reported the Trump administration diverted another $200 million from other programs in order to pay for the continued detention of undocumented immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
HHS will likely use the funds to keep up with the growing number of detained immigrant children.
According to recent data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, 13,312 immigrant children were in federal custody as recently as yesterday. In May 2017, that number was around 2,400.
With the capacity of ORR’s existing facilities approaching 92 percent, HHS is looking for ways to accommodate the growing population. As ThinkProgress has previously reported, HHS officials have said they would add an additional 3,800 beds at the Tornillo, Texas-based emergency tent-city for immigrant minors, effectively tripling its current capacity. The estimated cost of operating at these emergency facilities is $750 per child per day — nearly triple the cost of a regular ORR shelter.
It’s worth noting that immigration detention facilities are not facing capacity shortages due to a recent influx of children crossing the border, but rather because of the broken immigration system in the U.S. The current administration has sharply reduced the number of children being released and allowed to live with families and other sponsors, which has a placed an immense amount of strain on the migrant shelter network tasked with looking after them.
And this is likely just the beginning. In Azar’s letter to Sen. Murray, Azar stated that, based on “an increased length of time needed to safely release unaccompanied alien children to sponsors, HHS is preparing for the trend of high capacity to continue.”
Immigration law enforcement agencies are having some difficulty keeping up with the Trump administration’s haphazard deportation and detention demands, so much so that ICE has requested an additional $1 billion from the federal government, according to budget document obtained by The Washington Post.
According to immigration officials, an average of 43,000 immigrants are detained every day, which is more than Congress authorized in the current budget.
ICE has threatened that thousands of immigrants in federal custody may suffer “reductions in services” if Congress denies the funding they requested.