News ID: 132909
Published: 0232 GMT December 15, 2015

Funds insufficient for hosting unaccompanied children

Funds insufficient for hosting unaccompanied children

After a spike in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the US-Mexico border illegally in the past two months, a top health official has voiced renewed concern that too little money would be available to house the children, risking another border crisis, according to a letter obtained by Associated Press.


In the letter, Sylvia Burwell, the secretary of Health and Human Services, tells members of the US House of Representatives' Appropriations Committee that even with increased contingency funding requested by the president, the agency still faces a shortage that could lead to the situation we faced in (2014) when children were left at the border for unacceptable periods of time.

Agency Spokesman Mark Weber said, "The secretary is communicating with members of Congress to take all necessary steps to make sure that we're prepared and that the letter doesn't demand funds beyond the president's budget request."

Senate Appropriations Committee Spokesman Stephen Worley said items are still being reviewed, and it's not possible to say what will be included in the final budget.

The administration is hoping to avoid a repeat of the crisis it saw in the summer of 2014, when tens of thousands of children and families poured over the border. Border Patrol holding areas became overcrowded, with children sleeping on concrete floors covered by aluminum foil-like blankets. The surge in children arriving without parents overwhelmed the US government and the White House labeled it a humanitarian crisis.

A total of 10,588 unaccompanied children crossed the US-Mexico border in October and November, compared with 5,129 who crossed during the same two months last year, according to the US Border Patrol. The uptick has already prompted the agency to open two shelters in Texas and one in California.

Burwell says in her letter that it is impossible to know whether these trends will continue.

Border crossings have not reached the levels of summer 2014, when more than 10,000 children arrived in the United States that June alone.

By law, unaccompanied child migrants from countries that don't border the United States must be handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours of being detained. The government is responsible for caring for the children until they are united with a relative or sponsor in the US and immigration courts can rule on their cases.

Not only has the number of unaccompanied minors doubled, but the number of family members crossing together has nearly tripled from the same time last year, to 12,505 during the past two months. Adult male immigrants are usually sent to detention centers, and families, the majority women with children, are usually sent to detention centers, though detention times have become shorter since a federal judge's ruling that children can only be kept in these facilities for a matter of weeks at most.

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