English Classes, Legal Services Cut for Illegal Immigrant Children in Detention

PHOENIX—Illegal immigrant children in the care of the U.S. government may no longer have access to English-language courses and legal services, officials said on June 5.

The Health and Human Services department notified shelters around the country last week that it was not going to reimburse them for teachers’ pay or other costs such as legal services or recreational equipment. The move appears to violate a legal settlement known as the Flores agreement that requires the government to provide education and recreational activities to illegal immigrant children in its care.

But the agency says it doesn’t have the funding to provide those services as it deals with a soaring number of children coming to the United States, largely from Central America.

It’s now up to the various nonprofit and private organizations that care for the children to cover the cost of teachers, supplies, legal services, and even recreational activities and equipment—if they can, or choose to.

Health and Human Services says it currently has 13,200 children in its care, and more are coming. The Border Patrol said June 5 that 11,500 children without a parent crossed the border just last month. The kids are transferred to the care of Health and Human Services after the Border Patrol processes them. Health and Human Services contracts out their care and housing to nonprofits and private companies.

Migrants from Central America and Cuba walk on a highway
Migrants from Central America and Cuba walk on a highway during their journey towards the United States, in Tuzantan, in Chiapas state, Mexico, on March 25, 2019. (Jose Torres/Reuters)

“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 agency),” Health and Human Services spokeswoman Evelyn Stauffer said. “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.”

Health and Human Services is seeking nearly $3 million in emergency funding to cover more beds and provide basic care.

An official at one of the shelter providers said the government notified them on May 30 that they wouldn’t be reimbursing costs of providing education and other activities. The providers pay for things like teacher salary upfront and are then reimbursed by the government.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, said his employer was scrambling to figure out how it would cover the cost of teachers. The provider hasn’t laid anyone off, but worries about children who desperately need to learn English and be intellectually stimulated.

By Astrid Galvan And Adriana Gomez Licon