The ongoing crisis at detention centers on the southern U.S. border is costing American taxpayers more than $4.5 million per day.
Health and Human Services (HHS) told Yahoo Finance that of the 13,000 children in its care, 2,594 are staying at the two influx shelters at Homestead, Florida, and Carrizo Springs, Texas. About $2 million is spent each day for those nearly 2,600 children staying at those two facilities. Taxpayers are spending $2.7 million to house the remaining 10,406 children at permanent HHS facilities, bringing the total to roughly $4.7 million.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General (IG) released a blistering report on Tuesday, slamming the Department for substandard conditions where detained children didn’t have access to showers, changes of clothes, or hot meals.
The IG called on DHS to “take immediate steps to alleviate dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults in the Rio Grande Valley.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) criticized President Donald Trump, saying there had to be a “better way” of securing the borders. “We don’t think that we have to put children in cages to do it,” she said, calling Trump’s immigration policies “outside the circle of civilized human behavior.”
Legally, unaccompanied children and children with a parent or legal guardian are to be taken care of by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). HHS says it has 13,000 children its agency’s care. Children are kept in one of two types of facilities: temporary (emergency influx shelters) and permanent. According to HHS, while it costs $256 a day to house children at permanent HHS facilities, the figure balloons at temporary shelters to $775 a night.
‘Absolutely chilling to see’
Homestead has drawn the ire of both politicians and activists, who are trying to get the facility in Florida (a former Job Corps facility) shut down.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) has introduced the “Shut Down Child Prison Camps” act in a bid to permanently close the shelter. After visiting the site earlier in the year, the senator tweeted: “It was absolutely chilling to see so many children locked up in prison camps. They should be in homes, playgrounds, and schools!”
Responding to requests from Yahoo Finance, the agency said “the safety and care of UAC is our top priority. ORR has worked aggressively to meet its responsibility, by law, to provide shelter for unaccompanied children referred to its care by the Department of Homeland Security.”
In the private sector, Bank of America decided it would no longer finance companies involved in immigrant detention centers and called on policy makers to take on immigration reform.
Ballooning costs of detaining migrant children
While American taxpayers are currently spending nearly $5 million each day on detaining children at HHS facilities, it pales in comparison to the totality of the border crisis, and what has been spent so far this fiscal year.
HHS isn’t the only government agency inundated thanks to an exploding crisis at the southwest border. So have sister agencies Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
ICE reports that it has currently detained 31,093 adults who are not convicted criminals or have pending criminal charges. The agency is currently conducting mass immigration raids across the country, which has prompted an outpouring of advice and support for undocumented immigrants. Once detained, the average detention for immigrants who have not been convicted of crimes or have pending criminal charges is 47.6 days. Responding to requests from Yahoo Finance, the agency shared that its adult average daily bed rate was $126.52. In addition to paying for raids against what ICE has labeled “other immigration violator,” taxpayers spend $3.9 million each day to detain undocumented immigrants. Considering the average length of detention, the U.S. will likely pay $187 million to hold all of the undocumented immigrants currently being detained.
Echoing statements made by HHS, ICE told Yahoo Finance that the agency “is committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement.”
Along the Southwest Border, CBP has detained hundreds of thousands of adults and children this fiscal year (October 2018 through September 2019) alone. In FY 2019, CBP has detained roughly 594,000 people: 204,248 adults, more than 56,000 children, and nearly 333,000 family units (defined as an adult apprehended with a child). Given that the fiscal year is still ongoing, these numbers continue to increase each day. Adults detained by CBP are kept in facilities for an average of 20.5 days meaning that so far this year, $529.7 million was spent to keep adults in shelters that the IG described as “overcrowded” and posing a risk to the health and safety of those in custody.
But it is when considering all the adults, families, and unaccompanied children apprehended by Border Patrol this fiscal year that the total cost of the crisis comes into sharper focus. Using the daily bed rate and the average length of detention, the detention costs of everyone apprehended by Border Patrol this year ranges from just under $5 billion, to as high as $13.8 billion this fiscal year so far.
‘The cruelty is the goal’
But if these costs are high, it’s not being reflected in the level of care given to those being detained. Border Patrol’s own “TEDS Standards” requires that CBP make a “reasonable” effort to provide adults with showers after being held for 72 hours. Yet while in Border Patrol custody, the report found, “most single adults had not had a shower in CBP custody despite several being held for as long as a month.”
Freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has said that there is “abuse” in the facilities, and that women were drinking water out of toilets. Some adult detention centers were described in the Inspector General’s report as having facilities with “standing room only.”
The ACLU says that 7 children have died in custody or after being detained; while children recently released from custody drew pictures of themselves in cages. “The cruelty is the goal,” AOC tweeted after her visit. “It’s called “deterrence” - a policy stance that if our country inflicts enough pain on refugees, they will think twice before believing America is worth their dreams & aspirations.”
At the end of June, the House passed a $4.5 billion humanitarian aid package for the crisis at the border, to the objection of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and several Democrats.
“This bill — opposed by the Hispanic caucus and nearly 100 Democratic members of the House — will not stop the Trump administration’s chaos and cruelty,” they said in a statement.
Many blasted the bill for not including restrictions and protections for migrants.
“Only policy change can end cruelty, not blank checks to the status quo,” AOC said in a tweet.
Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.