Unaccompanied Migrant Youth to Lose Basic Educational, Recreational, and Legal Services While in U.S. Detention

Detention Center BeLatina
FILE – This May 29, 2019 file photo released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) shows some of 1,036 migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, the largest that the Border Patrol says it has ever encountered. The federal government is opening a new mass shelter for migrant children near the U.S-Mexico border and is considering housing children on three military bases to add 3,000 more beds to the overtaxed system in the coming weeks. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection via AP, File)

Unaccompanied migrant youths will no longer receive more than the most essential resources for survival while they are in U.S. custody, after the Trump administration’s announcement this week. Due to budgetary constraints, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has began to cut funding for basic educational and recreational services that have previously been offered to children who are being detained in migrant shelters against their will — services like English language classes and soccer games. The Department of Health and Human Services released a statement this week that this budget cut would end all services that are “not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation.”

In May, immigration authorities took more than 10,000 unaccompanied minors into custody, according to data cited by NPR, which is a sharp increase from late last year. In order to continue to accommodate this influx of detainees in shelters — as of now, the average youth detainee spends over a month in U.S. custody — the government will need to procure more funding. “We are in full-blown emergency and I cannot say this stronger, the system is broken,” John Sanders, the Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner, told reporters.

Detention Center RAICES Belatina
Photo Credit Twitter @RAICESTEXAS

At the crux of the matter is the value that the current administration places on the lives of unaccompanied minors. Already, many of these children have been housed in “ice box”-like conditions, behind chain-link fences that could be likened to pens or cages. The cuts are also putting contracted shelters in a bind; they recently received notice that they will not be reimbursed for any educational or recreational activities that have been offered since May 22nd.

Contending that basic recreation and education are non-essential parts of a child’s life runs contrary to countless child development studies available to officials that show how something like recreation can help children and teens to manage their stress levels and maintain their physical and mental wellbeing. Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell emphasized to the Washington Post, “These are children that are going through tremendous suffering. If the Trump administration does cancel these basic necessities like education, exercise and legal services, they are robbing them of their humanity.”

Don’t be mistaken: These inhumane conditions are not limited to today’s political climate, though they may be blatantly on display, used like chess pieces in a strategic ploy for political gains or a show of power. The reality is that even during the Obama administration, a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics covering the wellbeing of detained migrant youth found that detention centers were not offering adequate services for education, mental health, and basic medicine like immunizations, contradicting the AAP’s recommendation that immigrant and refugee youth “should be treated with dignity and respect and should not be exposed to conditions that may harm or traumatize them.”