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Trump Administration to Transfer Health Funds to Child Detention Centers

— September 25, 2018

The Trump administration plans to reallocate more than a quarter-billion dollars in funds from government programs to child detention centers.

The plan, outlined in a letter from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, cuts refugee support programs by nearly $80 million. An additional $180 million, reports The Hill, will be taken out of healthcare funds and used to enhance facilities used to hold young migrants.

Of the $180 million originally earmarked for health spending, an estimated $13 million is being ripped from the National Cancer institute. Some $5.7 million is being deducted from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, and millions more from ‘programs within the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’ and ‘the centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).’

The revelation spurned quick criticism from health advocates, including the Coalition for Health Funding’s executive director, Emily Holubowich.

In a statement published on her organization’s website, Holubowich said she’d “long suspected” that “funding to care for children separated from their parents at the border [was] being drawn directly from money appropriated for public health and medical research.”

Holubowich said that while the Coalition for Health Funding “recognizes the immediate need to care for these children and families—and the need to help them recover from the trauma they’ve sustained at the hands of the [Trump] administration […] depleting already underfunded health and research programs is not a solution.”

ICE agents arrest an undocumented immigrant in 2011. Under President Trump, arrests of non-criminal migrants have risen sharply since the Obama years. Image via U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency/Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

A recent report from the New York Times indicates that the number of immigrant children detained in and by the United States has skyrocketed under the Trump administration.

Just over a year ago, in May of 2017, about 2,400 children were held at immigration facilities. By the beginning of September 2018, that figure had risen to a record-high 13,000.

The massive boost in detention rates has prompted some Democratic senators to request additional funds for the Unaccompanied Alien Children program. They say any increased cost is a consequence of the White House’s ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to immigration, which recently led to thousands of families being separated along the U.S.-Mexico border.

HHS Deputy Secretary Hargan told The Hill that the department’s reallocation of funds is within Azar’s authority. The dispersal will be used to deal with “increases in caseloads and unexpected surges in children needing care from our program.”

David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, said that even if Azar’s decision is legal, it could set a “bad precedent.”

“We’re not faulting the rule, but we think it’s a bad precedent to establish, and these funds are desperately needed in the public health systems,” Harvey told The Hill.

“We think those funds would have been spent on higher priority items,” he added. “These are not dollars to sneeze at.”

However, Hargan and the HHS have stood by the administration, defending spending by citing what Republicans consider a crippled immigration system.

“Unfortunately, the need for additional funds has grown since FY 2011, due to the continual increase of unaccompanied alien children at the border,” Hargan said. “These transfers are only a temporary solution to the same consequence of a broken immigration system.”

Hargan and the HHS said the only money which has yet been reallocated are $17 million in unspent funds from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program.


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