Detaining immigrant children – a billion-dollar industry

“It was never intended to be a foster care system with more than 10,000 children in custody at an immediate cost to the federal taxpayer of over $1 billion dollars per year.”

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Image Credit: Eric Gay/AP File

Detaining immigrant children has become big business in the United States. Now reaching nearly a billion dollars, the industry, which provides “shelters, foster care and other child welfare services for detained unaccompanied and separated children,” rose from $74.5 million to $958 million is just 10 years, the Associated Press reported.

With more than 11,800 children in the government’s custody, officials say they will be reviewing a new round of proposals. There are currently 90 facilities across 15 states – Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington – where children are “being held while their parents await immigration proceedings or, if the children arrived unaccompanied, are reviewed for possible asylum themselves,” The Washington Post reported. Health and Human Services recently requested bids for five projects and said more contracts are set for bids in October.

The recipients, who are technically government contractors, are nonprofits, religious organizations and for-profit entities that made the switch from housing and detaining at-risk youth to housing immigrant children when a pouring in of thousands of youth from Central America arrived at the Mexico-U.S. border over the past few years, The Washington Post reported.

The largest collectors in the billion-dollar industry are Southwest Key and Baptist Child and Family Services, AP reported, respectively taking in $1.39 billion in grant funding and $942 million since 2008. International Educational Services, based in Texas, was the third highest recipient taking in $72 million this past fiscal year, but has since stopped operations because of questionable conditions of its shelters.

While the Trump administration said that separating children from their parents is a “deterrent” to future immigrants, Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families – an HHS division – said the policy has exposed broader issues over how the government can manage such a vast system,” The Washington Post reported.

“It was never intended to be a foster care system with more than 10,000 children in custody at an immediate cost to the federal taxpayer of over $1 billion dollars per year,” Wagner said in a statement.

And a study conducted by the State Department concluded that separating children and holding them in facilities can jeopardize “healthy cognitive development.”

“Removal of a child from the family should only be considered as a temporary, last resort,” the report stated. “Studies have found that both private and government-run residential institutions for children, or places such as orphanages and psychiatric wards that do not offer a family-based setting, cannot replicate the emotional companionship and attention found in family environments that are prerequisites to healthy cognitive development.”

Under the Trump administration more than 2,300 immigrant children have been separated from their parents.

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