It costs more than double the amount to detain children separated from their families at the US-Mexico border in tent cities than keeping the whole family together, a new report has revealed.
It costs $775 (£586) per night, per child, to be detained in the new tent cities facilities, NBC News reported, citing Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials.
It costs in the range of $265 to $298 (£200-£225) per person, per night to house families in established detention centres in Texas, the news outlet reported.
“At those prices, the additional cost to operate a 400-bed temporary structure for one month at capacity would be more than $5m (£3.7m),” it said. ”The average stay for separated kids is nearly two months.”
The higher costs for the newly-separated children are due to new construction of these tent cities, air conditioning for the facilities, certified medical workers, labour for the facilities, food, water, and other supplies which had to be procured quickly.
Southwest Key, a charity which runs a children-only Casa Padre facility in Brownsville, Texas, responded to The Independent to confirm unaccompanied and separated children are housed there, but directed all other queries to the Office of Refugee Resettlement within HHS. However, no officials in HHS, the Department of Homeland Security, the White House have immediately responded to requests for comment.
However, one HHS official told NBC News the agency is “aggressively looking for potential sites” to build more tent cities, where children are kept caged in and not allowed to contact their parents.
The separation of families has become a controversial and emotional political issue – particularly after Donald Trump falsely blamed Democrats for the policy’s continuation over the last few weeks.
The policy can be stopped unilaterally by the Trump administration as there is nothing in US immigration law or court precedent which compels separation.
Families are being separated because of the attorney general, Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” policy, which means adults caught crossing the border without proper documents are arrested and detained after their first offence.
It essentially makes seeking asylum – which according to US law requires entry into the country first – a crime.
Many of these families are crossing the border from Central America, where they face rampant gang violence, gender-based violence, and poverty.
However, there have been recent reports of at least 70 people seeking asylum from religious persecution in parts of South Asia who have been detained and separated.
Children cannot enter the US criminal justice system and thus are taken from their parents.
The administration has convoluted the issue of unaccompanied minors, children who crossed the border illegally without a parent or guardian, with the separated children.
Overall, HHS said it is holding 12,000 children in immigration facilities who are considered unaccompanied minors.
On Monday, the DHS secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, said keeping these children safe from human and sex traffickers was a priority for the government.
However, it is not the reason for actively separating children as young as four months old or those with disabilities, now held in so-called “tender age shelters” for those aged 10 and younger.
Stephen Miller, a White House aide, has also cited the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement as a reason family separation is an enforcement of US law.
Several experts have disagreed.
Prerna Lal, an immigration lawyer and undocumented youth advocate, told The Independent the “Flores is a settlement agreement brought about by years of litigation that sets standards for the care of migrant children.
“The court agreement calls on the government to release children to parents or sponsors as soon as possible and to keep them in the least restrictive setting.
“There is no exception to this agreement. It is the rule of law and the law of the US”.
The administration of Barack Obama “kept families detained together and they were sued for their non-compliance with the settlement agreement,” Ms Lal explained.
“The Trump Administration has decided to separate parents from children to dissuade parents from seeking asylum in the US and pursue criminal convictions against them.”
There have been numerous reports of separated children being traumatised by the policy from former employees of these facilities and audio clips of crying children, begging Border Patrol officers and staff to see a family member.
Before the “zero tolerance” policy was initiated in April 2018, children and families were detained together.
They stayed a maximum of 20 days in one of the established detention facilities and were then released with ankle monitors until a court hearing or released ahead of a hearing to determine the fate of their asylum application.
Nearly 3,000 children have been separated from their families since last month.