From culturally sensitive music to special meals for the lactose intolerant, the organizations the federal government is paying to house and care for the children who have surged across the border illegally are taking pains to make sure they are as comfortable as possible.
Dietitians scrutinize the menus each day to make sure they include enough whole grains but not whole milk. Counselors offer life skills classes in Spanish, and intensive English language training, including use of the Rosetta Stone program. Doctors and dentists treat the children at taxpayers’ expense–often the first medical care of the children’s lives.
The children also are guaranteed phone privileges, including the right to call back to their home countries.
Some facilities go above and beyond. Yolo County, California, which has a grant to house several dozen of the children in its juvenile detention facility, provides an intercom system in each bedroom so children can talk with staff, but the system “also provides the opportunity for youths to listen to music that is sensitive to culture and preference.”
The federal government has been hush-hush about many aspects of housing and caring for the children. It has refused to provide a list of the 100 or so nonfederal facilities where the children are being sheltered.
But documents from the program give a glimpse of the breadth and scope of the effort, which is eating up an ever-larger portion of the Health and Human Services Department’s budget, jumping from $305.9 million last year to $671.3 million so far in fiscal year 2014.
The biggest grants this year are going to Baptist Child & Family Services, which is being paid $280.2 million; Southwest Key Programs Inc., at $122.3 million; and International Educational Services Inc., at $55 million. Translation services and charter airlines also are making millions of dollars from contracts to transport the children around the country, and to help overcome language barriers.
But public spending databases give a glimpse of many locations, and activists at NumbersUSA, an organization that wants a crackdown on immigration, have culled through the contracts, scrutinized press reports and solicited tips from residents to create a map detailing where children are being housed, sites under consideration and places where the government has had to back off.
The sites are concentrated mainly along the coastal states and southern border, but some are scattered throughout the Upper Midwest.
In Prince William County, which is part of the outer Virginia suburbs of Washington, the Youth for Tomorrow facility has been housing unaccompanied minors for several years. The surge has increased the number of children from two dozen last year to more than 60 as of late May.
The facility’s request for approval to expand created a public backlash. The county Board of Supervisors demanded more information to evaluate whether local taxpayers will end up on the hook for any of the costs.
Meanwhile, the facility hired off-duty police to provide security at the entrance, as a deterrent against the kinds of protests facing some other locations.
Some details can be gleaned from state and local reports. For example, Yolo County’s documents show the experience the facility requires for employees, and the thorough record keeping necessary to keep track of the children for the federal government.
Each child has a progress report that must be started by his or her 10th day in custody and updated every 30 days afterward. The files average 25 pages in length and detail every medical and mental health service, as well as educational testing results.
Yolo County supplied HHS with sample menus, noting that it had the ability to switch out a quiche dish with something more appropriate for a lactose-intolerant detainee, or one with a peanut allergy.
All facilities are required to provide schooling, with a particular emphasis on the English language.
Children are guaranteed the right to wear their own clothes, to have a private place to store belongings, to have guests, to send and receive uncensored mail, and to have phone privileges.
“UAC have the right to make phone calls to family members regardless of the family’s immigration status and includes family members located in the UAC’s country of origin,” HHS said in its work statement.