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Why the US Government is Holding More than 12,000 Children in Federal Shelters


The federal government's tent shelter for immigrant children in Tornillo, Texas

The federal government has an overload of immigrant children in its custody.

Health and Human Servies agency spokesman Kenneth Wolfe tells CBN News that it's holding 12,800 children in federal shelters, waiting to be reunited with their families.

Earlier this year, the public became outraged after the Trump administration separated 2,300 immigrant children from family members at the border under a separation policy that the president later reversed.

Now, few seem to know about a new policy reported on by Texas Monthly and the New York Times. It has created layers of bureaucracy and red tape, resulting in delays for immigrant children arriving alone at the border with the hope of finding a family member in the US. Those delays have contributed to the historic number now in federal shelters.

Bethany Christian Services, a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Christian social services agency, is watching the nightmare play out. It cares for these children, up to 128 at a time, in a foster care service that blends an educational program during the day with foster family care in the evenings and on the weekends.

Since 2013, Bethany has directly reunified more than 500 children in this transitional foster care program within 45 days. Now, it's taking up to 64 days.

The hold-up? The new policy that requires fingerprints for any family member who wants to be reunified with their child, as well as the fingerprints of all the adults in their home.

Hannah Mills, who oversees Bethany's transitional foster care program, says the policy is misguided. While there is a need for a safety evaluation, she says, the fingerprint requirement forces parents and other adults in the home who may be undocumented to make a difficult choice. "What we're seeing is unneeded or too much," she told CBN News. "We're asking parents and families to risk their own legal status." 

Those in the country illegally are hesitant to supply fingerprints for fear of deportation or other legal repercussions.

The fingerprint policy is keeping children apart from their family even longer and that's not only adding to the numbers in custody, it's taking a toll on the children, says Mills. Bethany cares for all ages, from infants to 17-year-olds. "When we're talking about little kids, it's 20 days we're continuing to keep them separated from their families," she said, referring to the extra time.

Bethany's lobbyist, Nate Bult, says lawmakers don't seem motivated to fix the problem. "Congress has not shown any appetite to address this," he told CBN News.

It's a big reason why the government is tripling the size of a tent shelter in Tornillo, Texas. It plans to expand the facility to 3,800 beds and keep it open through the end of the year.

Originally, the Tornillo facility opened for 30 days with 360 beds.

Texas is holding many of the 12,800 immigrant children in federal custody. The state Health and Human Services Commission reports that 5,168 children were held in government facilities in August.

The price tag for these extra days in custody is another concern, say child advocates. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) told the New York Times that facilities like the one in Tornillo cost $750 per child per day.

Bethany, in comparison, is a bargain. It says the ORR pays it $200 per child per day.


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