A Wednesday report from POLITICO suggests that the costs of President Donald Trump’s immigration policy may be more than just moral.
The Department of Health and Human Services, charged with overseeing detained migrants and youth, has ‘quietly dipped into tens of millions of dollars to pay’ for consequences of stringent border security. Since May, the United States has been taking a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to illegal aliens. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said prosecutors and courts are being instructed to pursue criminal charges against anyone suspected of making an irregular border crossing.
Part of that policy—at least temporarily—entailed separating children detained along with their parents during unauthorized entries.
In the ensuring chaos and controversy, the Department of Health and Human Services was forced to divert $40 million in the past two months alone. Most of that money has been earmarked to provide care and reunification facilities for separated families. Housing costs for the total detainee population is estimated to be close to $1.5 million per day.
A court directive to reunify all parents and children separated at the border could lead to even greater costs. The HHS is ‘preparing’ to shift some $200 million from ‘other accounts’ to its reunification effort, ‘even as the White House weighs a request for additional funding for the Department of Homeland Security.’ POLITICO suggests that the move could turn ‘politically explosive’ in the coming months.
Frustration, born of the department and the slow pace of reunification, has spilled into political circles, too. Democratic and Republican leaders alike have said the separation policies can’t continue.
“This is not a policy we should be pursuing,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), chairman of the Labor-HHS-Education subcommittee.
“We have sent letters demanding answers with regards to the cost […] (and) we have received no answers from the OMB or from HHS,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a ranking member of the same subcommittee. “The Trump administration is withholding information from Congress.”
POLITICO’s reporting shows that the Department of Health and Human Services itself has maintained a comparatively cheerful line—agency head Alex Azar spent last week extolling the bureau’s efforts to reunify separated families, calling it “one of the great acts of American generosity and charity.”
Costs accumulated by the HHS have been numerous and varied in source. POLITICO says that ‘one major spending driver’ is the use of “influx shelters.” The shelters house temporarily ‘contracted’ families. Each child housed in such a facility can incur up to $800 per night.
“We were forced to turn to influx shelters when there was no choice,” said Mark Greenberg, senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute and leader of the Administration for Children and Families from 2013 to 2015. “That’s really different from deciding to expand influx shelters because you’re chosen to forcibly separate families.”