From culturally sensitive music to special meals for the lactose intolerant, the organizations the federal government is paying to house and care for the children who have surged across the border illegally are taking pains to make sure they are as comfortable as possible.
Dietitians scrutinize the menus each day to make sure they include enough whole grains but not whole milk. Counselors offer life skills classes in Spanish, and intensive English language training, including use of the Rosetta Stone program. Doctors and dentists treat the children at taxpayers’ expense — often the first medical care of the children’s lives.
The children also are guaranteed phone privileges, including the right to call back to their home countries.
Some facilities go above and beyond. Yolo County, California, which has a grant to house several dozen of the children in its juvenile detention facility, provides an intercom system in each bedroom so children can talk with staff, but the system “also provides the opportunity for youths to listen to music that is sensitive to culture and preference.”
The federal government has been hush-hush about many aspects of housing and caring for the children. It has refused to provide a list of the 100 or so nonfederal facilities where the children are being sheltered.
But documents from the program give a glimpse of the breadth and scope of the effort, which is eating up an ever-larger portion of the Health and Human Services Department’s budget, jumping from $305.9 million last year to $671.3 million so far in fiscal year 2014.
The biggest grants this year are going to Baptist Child & Family Services, which is being paid $280.2 million; Southwest Key Programs Inc., at $122.3 million; and International Educational Services Inc., at $55 million. Translation services and charter airlines also are making millions of dollars from contracts to transport the children around the country, and to help overcome language barriers.
The Washington Times submitted Freedom of Information Act requests early last month seeking copies of the largest grants, but those have yet to be fulfilled.
Nonprofits contacted by The Times said federal officials told them not to answer questions, and to direct all inquiries to HHS.
HHS spokesman Kenneth J. Wolfe told The Times that Congress has ordered the department to keep all information private.
“These policies are based on a number of congressional directives to protect this vulnerable population, including a 2005 House Committee Report urging HHS ‘to maintain the privacy and confidentiality of all information gathered in the course of the care, custody and placement of unaccompanied alien children,’” Mr. Wolfe said. “In addition, the Flores Settlement Agreement, which governs HHS’ treatment of unaccompanied children, includes requirements to safeguard records about the children and to preserve the confidentiality of their personal information.”
But public spending databases give a glimpse of many locations, and activists at NumbersUSA, an organization that wants a crackdown on immigration, have culled through the contracts, scrutinized press reports and solicited tips from residents to create a map detailing where children are being housed, sites under consideration and places where the government has had to back off.
The sites are concentrated mainly along the coastal states and southern border, but some are scattered throughout the Upper Midwest.
Rosemary Jenks, government relations manager at NumbersUSA, said the problem isn’t the care the children are receiving, but rather the lack of effort to eventually send them home.