Washington, D.C. – On Wednesday, June 12, Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson led a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought, urging them to reconsider planned funding cuts to services provided to unaccompanied minors in federal detention.
The administration has announced that it is canceling English classes and other educational activities, recreational activities, and legal aid for detained children due to budget constraints. The letter, which was co-signed by 19 other members of Congress, criticized the decision as a violation of the Flores Agreement, which regulates the services and care that must migrant children must receive while in custody.
The lawmakers also condemned the administration’s mismanagement of funds intended for child migrant services, highlighting a failure to expeditiously release children into the care of sponsors and instead housing them in expensive, private detentions centers. The average daily cost to care for a child at the unlicensed, privately-operated Homestead facility in South Florida, for example, is $750. By contrast, the cost per child at state-licensed facilities, which generally have better conditions, is $256 per day. The Office of Refugee Resettlement recently announced that it is expanding the Homestead shelter for a second time this year, in addition to opening another unlicensed influx facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas.
“This administration has shown a disturbing disregard for the mental and physical health of children in its custody, who are spending weeks and often months in detention conditions that are tantamount to house arrest. I am deeply concerned about the long-term harm that they are inflicting on this vulnerable population,” said Congresswoman Wilson.
“Ending educational and recreational activities would be demoralizing and are almost certain to exacerbate mental health stresses. These services are vital to the children’s health and well-being and I strongly urge Secretary Azar and Mr. Vought to reverse this barbaric decision,” she added.
Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson is a fourth-term Congresswoman from Florida representing parts of Northern Miami-Dade and Southeast Broward counties. A former state legislator and school principal, she is the founder of the 5000 Role Models for Excellence Project, a mentoring program for young males at risk of dropping out of school. Congresswoman Wilson also founded and chairs the Florida Ports Caucus, a bipartisan taskforce that coordinates federal action in support of Florida’s harbors and waterways. The Florida lawmaker sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Education and the Workforce Committee, and chairs the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions.