At least two New York organizations that shelter migrant children said they’ve been told to cut back spending on things like tutoring and local trips, following a new order from the Trump Administration.
Ronald Richter, chief executive officer of the JCCA, formerly the Jewish Child Care Organization, said his agency got the memo last week from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which provides grants for shelter and foster care services.
The Administration for Families and Children said ORR had “instructed grantees to begin scaling back or discontinuing awards for U.A.C. [unaccompanied alien children] activities that are not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation.”
JCCA is one of several non-profits in the region with ORR contracts. Unaccompanied minors who cross into the country without their parents typically stay in a shelter or in foster care. From there, they can be transferred to live with a relative pending the outcome of an immigration court hearing to determine whether they can gain legal status.
Richter said JCCA serves 30 adolescents who were placed in long term foster care in the Bronx because they didn’t have relatives to live with. He explained that the new directive means he can't keep using almost $100,000 a year in federal funds that pay for trips around the city, life skills and tutoring.
“Most of our kids come here and are significantly under grade level with respect to their school work,” he said, adding that the tutoring is in English plus math, history, social sciences and science. The kids also take trips around the city so they can socialize together while in government custody.
Richter said he'll seek out other funding sources, if necessary, to keep serving the children.
“Basically we are all immigrants,” he said. “So these children should not get a different message just because they happen to be embroiled in a lyrical maelstrom that is not their fault.”
Evelyn Stauffer, a spokesperson for the federal Administration for Children and Families, blamed “a humanitarian crisis at the border brought on by a broken immigration system” that is putting tremendous strain on the Office of Refugee Resettlement and its programs for unaccompanied minors. She said Health and Human Services is seeking an emergency appropriation of $2.88 billion to increase shelter capacity in order to meet the needs of the minors in federal custody while ORR works to find them sponsors, who are usually family members.
On Thursday, Brooklyn congressman Hakim Jeffries told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer he's skeptical about the Trump administration's claim that these cuts are needed.
“If there is truly a humanitarian crisis that requires additional resources that may not exist, I think that is something House Democrats are prepared to meet,” he said.
But he also said those resources should go to the migrant children instead of to additional border patrol or immigration enforcement.
If cuts to the childrens’ programs are made, a legal challenge is widely expected because a loss in services would potentially violate the Flores Agreement that mandates a minimum level of care for migrant children.
It's not clear when the funding restrictions will hit each local shelter and foster program serving unaccompanied minors, because their grants come at different times. The biggest provider, Cayuga Centers, has hundreds of children in foster care and said on Thursday it's not affected yet. But the head of another program, who did not want to be identified, said he wasn’t sure his non-profit could make up for a loss in funds to provide teachers and recreation..
“These are kids who have been through hell and back,” he said, referring to the long journeys adolescents take to the southern border when they’re fleeing violence and gangs in their home countries. He said his program could probably keep paying its staffers for another month or two, but “beyond that would put the program in jeopardy.”
Although the federal government indicated legal services for migrant children would also be scaled back, the main contractor for services in New York, the Vera Institute, said it had not heard of any cutbacks. The Vera Institute pays Catholic Charities to screen unaccompanied minors for legal services and to represent them in immigration court.
Beth Fertig is a senior reporter covering courts and legal affairs at WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @bethfertig.