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Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is transferring $271 million from their constituent agencies toward funding border programs. According to NPR, of this $271 million, $155 million comes out of disaster relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). While it is correct and even common practice for DHS to transfer funds within their own agencies, transferring funds from FEMA to inhumane practices in border facilities constitutes malpractice. The need for the amount allocated to FEMA disaster funds becomes clear with the height of hurricane season approaching and the U.S.’s most expensive season just two years behind us. U.S. News & World Reports notes that government officials plan to use the $155 million to construct more temporary hearing facilities to expedite the processing of asylum cases. The other $116 million dollars will be put towards providing more beds for the detention facilities. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “houses” 54,344 people including single adults, families, and unaccompanied minors for weeks in facilities that are only meant to hold people for a few days.
Many officials and public figures have deemed “housed” a much too generous word to describe the living conditions in these facilities. Reporters from Fox 10 News compare these conditions to a poorly operated dog kennel. Other reporters take it a step further, such as those from The Atlantic that draw comparisons to prisoner-of-war camps and concentration camps. What, then, is the state of these conditions such that many officials have considered them a humanitarian crisis? According to the Texas Tribune, the government has been denying the migrant children in some facilities the right to a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap and towels—thus, also their right to a sanitary environment. These facilities also lack the right to proper nutrition, clean access to water as 20 people share the same cup, and adequate sleep as they sleep on concrete floors with aluminum blankets. Furthermore, there is the overwhelming shame of using the toilet that sits in clear view of 50 other migrants. The New York Post reports that an estimated 130 unaccompanied youths are processed into these facilities daily, and between 15-20 of these have been separated from their parents. It is clear that both the physical and psychological safety of vulnerable minors have been placed in jeopardy by these facilities.
Hurricane history has shown that it has the potential to leave the people and land in its wake virtually destitute. On top of this, many hurricane zones land on impoverished areas in the U.S. and its territories. The aftermath of these disasters usually brings a spike in crime as food and resources become scarce. Moreover, to make a financial decision that could in any way impede on a community’s ability to be restored post-disaster would be grossly unfair. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi considers this funding transfer to be pick-pocketing, which does not seem so far off. Since well over half of the money is being used to create more temporary hearing facilities, it seems likely that, with money being spread thin, these facilities will end up with the same aforementioned conditions. Thus, this transfer jeopardizes the safety of all stakeholders. On one hand it leaves the victims of disaster underfunded, and on the other it allows for more inhumane facilities to be constructed and used. Congresswoman Jackie Speier offers a better solution in her report to Fox 10 News, which is to process through the asylum cases of minors as quickly as possible and get them in contact with healthcare professionals and social workers to help continue their journey with safety.
It is important to note that this is not an issue entirely new to the Trump administration. According to the Texas Tribune, in 1997 the Flores Settlement was created to protect the migrant youth and promise them “safe and sanitary” conditions. This settlement has been violated in both the Obama and Trump administrations. The recent surge in immigration during the Trump administration has made this an overwhelmingly apparent problem in recent years.
The Texas Tribune reports that in the last year, six children have died due to illness spread in these facilities. NPR reports similarly devastating news that a child living in these facilities is at much higher risk to be a victim of human trafficking. Thus, since this is the state that the existing facilities have sunk to, it is only reasonable to assume that any new facilities that are constructed could perpetuate this phenomenon. Moving money from FEMA that could help restore one community to a place that could destroy another is inhumane. The key element that will restore the migrant community is support, specifically for the physical and psychological needs of vulnerable youths through the means of incorporating social workers into these facilities.