Children and Youth Organizations Condemn Cuts to Services for Migrant Children

Washington, D.C., June 11, 2019—Today, more than 100 national, state, and local organizations that serve or advocate on behalf of children and youth joined together to condemn the Trump Administration’s decision to suspend educational and recreational services for unaccompanied migrant children and youth in federally contracted migrant shelters. In a joint letter to officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the groups urged the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to maintain the supportive services that every child needs to thrive—and that are specified by the Flores settlement and state licensure requirements.

With more than 13,000 minors being held in shelters contracted by ORR, this decision has far-reaching effects on young migrants, many of whom experienced trauma in their home countries such as abandonment, sexual or physical abuse, witnessing violent crime, or kidnapping. According to the letter, “In some cases, children were also abused or trafficked during their journey to the United States. Recreational, social, and educational enrichment activities—such as playing sports and opportunities for creative expression—are particularly important for children and youth who have experienced trauma, as these activities may help to alleviate stress and foster resiliency.”

International, federal, and state law widely recognizes that children are unique from adults and should be afforded special protections that support their developmental needs. The letter goes on to state “The services deemed ‘non-essential’ by ORR—including English, math, science, and reading classes and outdoor activities such as soccer and basketball—are in fact fundamental to promoting children’s healthy development and learning.”

“While administration officials claim they are suspending these activities due to insufficient resources—it’s actually a crisis of the administration’s own making. In fact, the administration is using children as pawns in a dangerous political game and should be focused instead on ensuring children receive the care they need while in federal custody and reuniting children with family as soon as possible,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), one of the organizers of the letter of condemnation.

“When policies impact children, the ‘best interest of the child’ standard should apply. Consequently, we reject the administration’s hostage-style use of children to push a political agenda at the expense of the needs and well-being of innocent children,” said Bruce Lesley, president of the bipartisan children’s advocacy organization First Focus on Children. “We must ensure that children seeking asylum receive services to help them navigate the complex immigration system and that assure their physical and mental well-being and oppose policies that do them harm.”

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