An average of 255 illegal alien youths were taken into the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) every day this month, according to the latest figures the agency provided to Congress. This is the largest number of illegal alien children ever in the care of the federal government. To pay for it, the agency says it will need an additional one or two billion dollars for the next year – above and beyond the $1.2 billion spent in 2016 and proposed for 2017 – depending on how many more arrive. For now, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where ORR resides, is diverting $167 million from other programs to cover the cost of services for these new illegal arrivals through December 9, when the current continuing resolution expires.
An email to congressional staff from Barbara Clark of the HHS legislative liaison office, dated November 28, 2016, stated:
“Daily referrals of unaccompanied children averaged 247 over the last seven days, and 255 so far in November. For comparison, referrals averaged 185 per day in November of FY 2016 and 64 per day in November of FY 2015. As of November 27, 2016, the number of children in ORR care is approximately 11,200.”
A separate email informed congressional offices of HHS Secretary Burwell's intent to transfer money from other programs to ORR to pay for shelters, health care, schooling, recreation, and other services for the new illegal arrivals, who typically were brought to the border by smugglers paid by their parents, who often are living in the United States illegally. According to CIS Fellow Joe Kolb's recent report, ORR will place these youths with family members or other sponsors, but eventually will lose touch with nearly half of them when they melt into the larger illegal alien population.
“In FY 2016, 59,200 unaccompanied children (UC) were referred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), 25,000 more than in FY 2015. ORR has experienced consistent month over month growth in the number of referrals of nearly nine percent since June 2016. As a result, ORR is currently funding more shelter capacity and has more children in care than ever before in the history of the program. ...
“During the first month of the new Fiscal Year, the trend experienced last fiscal year has continued. In October, 7,420 unaccompanied children were referred to ORR's care, the third highest referral month in the program's history. Last month, ORR served more children, with a higher number of shelter beds in operation, than ever before. The total number of children in care is nearly double what it was a year ago – an average of 10,154 in October of FY 2017 versus 5,823 in October of FY 2016.”
HHS received $171 million to spend on services for the illegal alien youths through the budget period covered by the current continuing resolution, which expires December 9, 2016. The agency also has a surplus of $90 million leftover from 2016, for a total of $261 million now available.
But they estimate that they will need another $40 to $165 million more just to cover expenses through December 9, so Secretary Burwell has used her authority to transfer the money to ORR from other HHS programs.
According to my sources, because there are limits to the amount of money that agency heads can move around, in this case Burwell will be cutting every appropriations account at HHS by a small percentage. That means that in order to provide services to the illegal alien youths, money is being taken from other vital health and welfare programs, including:
- $14 million from the Health Resources and Services Administration, including $4.5 million from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and $2 million from the Maternal and Child Health program;
- $14 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for contagious disease prevention and treatment and other critical public health programs;
- $72 million from the National Institutes of Health, for research on cancer, diabetes, drug abuse, mental health, infectious diseases and much more;
- $8 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, for treatment and prevention programs;
- $8 million from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services;
- $39 million from the Children and Families Services Program;
- $4 million from the Aging and Disability Services Programs;
- $3 million from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, including more than $1 million from the Pandemic Influenza and BioShield Fund.
The email states that unless Congress appropriates more money for services for the illegal alien youths in their custody, the new arrivals might be "stranded" at the border:
“The budget outlook for the remainder of the fiscal year is even more serious. The FY 2017 House and Senate Labor-HHS appropriations bills propose flat funding for FY 2017, which leaves the program significantly underfunded. Based on the information we have and the trends we are experiencing, flat funding for ORR this year will make it impossible to meet our statutory responsibility to provide shelter and care for the children that are referred to ORR. We now calculate that the program will need between $1 billion and $2 billion over FY 2016 levels, depending on the number of children that arrive.
“In brief, funds are needed to ensure that ORR can continue to provide shelter to unaccompanied children referred by DHS and other law enforcement agencies throughout FY 2017. With ORR's balances depleted, and having exhausted the additional funding available through the full exercise of the Secretary's transfer authority, ORR is not able to meet our legal and humanitarian obligations to shelter these children. HHS cannot continue to provide the services we are statutorily bound to provide and avoid a scenario where children are potentially stranded at the border without additional funding from the Congress.
“Please let us know if you have any questions.”
Instead of funding ORR to essentially complete the job of the human smugglers who were paid by the parents of the youths to bring them to the United States in the expectation that they would be allowed to stay with their families, Congress should instead direct funding to the Border Patrol for temporary shelters from which the youths and their families can be swiftly returned to their home countries.
Jessica M. Vaughan is Director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a research institute in Washington DC.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by the Center for Immigration Studies.