The Trump administration is opening a new facility in Texas to house the surge of unaccompanied minors coming across the border as it warns that it’s almost out of funds and cutting education and recreation programs.
The temporary shelter in Carrizo Springs, Texas, which will accommodate about 1,600 unaccompanied minors, will be operated by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, which has been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of children apprehended at the US-Mexico border.
On Wednesday, the administration announced that nearly 133,000 migrants had been arrested crossing the border illegally in May, including more than 11,000 unaccompanied children.
The number of people and funding crunch has the agency worried about money running out.
“ORR is functioning as if it were in a government shutdown as of this week,” said Evelyn Stauffer, spokeswoman for the HHS Administration for Children and Families.
As of April 30, nearly 41,000 children have been sent to the agency, putting it on track to “care for the largest number of (unaccompanied children) in the program’s history,” it says. Just over 59,000 children were referred to the agency in fiscal year 2016.
Currently, there are around 13,200 children in HHS custody, the majority of whom are male teenagers.
After being apprehended by the Border Patrol, unaccompanied minors are generally transferred to HHS custody within 72 hours. HHS then is tasked with finding a sponsor in the United States for the children, meaning, for example, an immediate family member or relative. The average length of stay is 48 days.
The swell of migrants has prompted the need for additional facilities. The Carrizo Springs facility announced Thursday will consist of hard-sided structures to shelter children and semi-permanent soft-sided structures “for support operations.” It likely won’t begin to accept children for another month.
Carrizo Springs is yet another temporary influx facility to be activated during the Trump administration. Homestead, which is located in Florida, opened in February 2018 and shelters children between 13 and 17 years old.
HHS is also reviewing the possibility of sending unaccompanied migrant children to Fort Benning in Georgia. Like previous years, HHS requested the assistance of the Defense Department amid an increase of unaccompanied children.
Diminishing funds, however, has recently led the agency to scale back or cancel activities at some shelters.
“This week, ORR instructed grantees to begin scaling back or discontinuing awards for (unaccompanied minors) activities that are not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation,” Stauffer said Wednesday.
HHS warned Congress in March that it was nearing capacity. HHS Secretary Alex Azar notified Congress in a letter that the department planned to reallocate up to $385 million in fiscal year 2019 for the Unaccompanied Alien Children Program.
And in May, the White House requested $4.5 billion for the border, which would’ve also included funding for HHS. The request hasn’t been filled.