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Detention for Immigrant Children Swells to Billion-Dollar Industry

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported earlier this week that it has been unable to locate the parents of more than 70 children separated along the U.S.-Mexico border. Photo: Pixabay

by Eric Galatas

AUSTIN, Texas – The cost to taxpayers for detaining immigrant children has grown from $75 million a year in 2007 to almost $1 billion today, according to new analysis by the Associated Press.

Tom Jawetz, vice president for immigration policy with the Center for American Progress, said many of the costs to care for kids in federal custody are justifiable. But, he noted, policies enacted over the past year by the Trump administration have led to a surge in spending.

“It is a very poor use of taxpayer dollars, though, to throw thousands of additional children into that system who have no business being cared for by the office of refugee resettlement because they’re here with their parents,” Jawetz said.

Nearly 12,000 kids are currently being held at some 90 sites across 15 states including Texas. Kids are kept in detention while their parents go through the immigration process or as they wait for foster care placement if they came to the U.S. alone.

Supporters of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy say stronger border security is necessary to discourage people from entering the country illegally.

Companies operating detention facilities get grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and include for-profit, religious and nonprofit firms. A recent USA Today report found one CEO at a nonprofit saw his annual income double in the past year to nearly $1.5 million.

Jawetz said the vast majority of those seeking asylum did not enter the U.S. illegally.

“The law right now, as it is written, provides the right to apply for asylum, regardless of where or how you enter the country,” he said. “And so these individuals who are applying for asylum are following the law, and they’re doing exactly what the law requires of them.”

A series of complaints about poor conditions led one Texas-based detention operator to close shop. The company, International Educational Services, secured more than $72 million in taxpayer dollars over the past year.

Texas also boasts what is thought to be the largest children’s detention center in the nation, operating out of a former Walmart. And three centers in the state are intended to hold children age five and younger.

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