Trump admin ending legal aid, English classes for migrant children in US shelters

The Trump administration told migrant shelters this week to wind down services — such as legal aid, English classes and recreational activity — that are not directly related to children's safety.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said it began instructing grantees this week to begin scaling back or discontinuing awards for activities "that are not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation."


Federal officials said the administration's refugee office is running out of the necessary funds to deal with a massive influx of unaccompanied minors at the southern border.

"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," HHS said.

HHS said ending those services are necessary under the Antideficiency Act, which requires the department to prioritize safety when faced with a funding shortfall.

The department is seeking an emergency appropriation of $2.88 billion to fund its refugee operations. HHS said the program is on pace to run out of funding in the coming weeks and will need supplemental funding. HHS is legally obligated to direct funding to essential services.

"Basic educational, recreational, and legal services for unaccompanied children are imperative for their physical and mental well-being. ORR’s cancelling of these services will inflict further harm on children, many of whom continue to languish for months without being placed safely and expeditiously into a sponsor’s care," said Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroHouse Democrats unveil .9 billion bill to boost security after insurrection Capitol Police watchdog back in spotlight amid security concerns Battle lines drawn over Biden's support for vaccine waivers MORE (D-Conn.), chair of the House Appropriations HHS subcommittee.

"That is not only unacceptable, it could be in violation of the law."

Under current law, migrant children who illegally cross into the U.S. must be sent to a government shelter, where they stay until they can be united with relatives or other sponsors while awaiting immigration court hearings.


HHS operates a network of approximately 168 facilities and programs in 23 states to house those children. On average this year, the agency has taken about 40,000 children into custody, including 12,587 in April. They stayed an average of 48 days until a case worker could place them with a sponsor, usually a relative. 

Federal law requires that children must be held in the “least restrictive” facility possible, meaning they must be held in migrant shelters, rather than jail-like facilities. Migrant children’s time in government custody has grown longer, in part due to the new policies that make sponsors afraid to come forward because of immigration enforcement.