Obama Raids Health Programs to Pay for Illegal Immigrants
Health and Human Services informs Congress $167 million will be redirected to services for migrants
The Department of Health and Human Services informed Congress this week that it will raid heath programs for Americans to pay for thousands of children and teenagers flooding the southwest border.
Barbara Clark, a deputy director of the department, sent a letter to congressional staffers indicating that HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell intends to shift $167 million to pay for housing, health care, schooling, recreation, and other services for unaccompanied minors until the current temporary spending bill expires Dec. 9.
“HHS cannot continue to provide the services we are statutorily bound to provide and avoid a scenario where children are potentially stranded at the border without additional funding from the Congress.”
Clark wrote that the budget outlook for the rest of the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 is dire unless Congress provides $1-2 billion on top of the proposed $1.2 billion budget increase for the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency charged with placing children and teens with sponsors in the United States.
“With ORR’s balances depleted, and having exhausted the additional funding available through the full exercise of the secretary’s transfer authority, ORR is not able to meet our legal and humanitarian obligations to shelter these children,” she wrote. “HHS cannot continue to provide the services we are statutorily bound to provide and avoid a scenario where children are potentially stranded at the border without additional funding from the Congress.”
As of Nov. 27, the number of illegal immigrant children in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement was about 11,200. Critics of President Obama’s immigration policies long have questioned the administration’s approach to the unaccompanied minor surge, which has averaged 255 a day in the month of November.
The administration has reunited many of those illegal arrivals with family members. The Associated Press reported that 80 percent of youths arriving illegally from February 2014 to September 2015 went to sponsors who themselves are illegal immigrants.
Due to backlogs in immigration courts, it can take years for the asylum claims of those youths to be adjudicated. The Office of Refugee Resettlement, meanwhile, loses track almost half of those minors, according to a recent report by the Center for Immigration Studies.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington-based think tank, said the policy effectively completes a journey often started by smugglers paid to deliver youths from Central America to the United States.
“They don’t have any basis for staying here,” she said, pointing to government data indicating that officials ultimately reject the vast majority of asylum claims.
Vaughan said many parents pay smugglers to bring their children to America.
“We should not be rewarding that by paying for these children to stay,” she said.
The temporary spending measure passed by Congress included $171 million for the Department of Heath and Human Services to spend on services for illegal immigrant youths until lawmakers pass a permanent budget. The agency also has a surplus of $90 million left over from 2016, for a total of $261 million currently available, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.
Clark wrote that the department will still be short $40 million to $165 million for the unaccompanied minors. Under federal law, Burwell has authority to redirect 1 percent of any program’s budget without authorization from Congress.
“What Burwell did was took a little bit from almost every account,” Vaughan said.
Vaughan said it is perverse to take money away from vital programs for Americans to pay the costs of illegal immigrant children with no right to stay. She said swift action to return those children shortly after they arrive will deter more people from paying smugglers.
"The responsible thing to do is to change the policy," she said. "HHS is not picking the pockets of people on Wall Street. These are important programs."
Health programs taking a hit include:
- $14 million from the Health Resources and Services Administration, including $4.5 million from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and $2 million from the Maternal and Child Health program.
- $14 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for contagious disease prevention and treatment and other critical public health programs.
- $72 million from the National Institutes of Health, for research on cancer, diabetes, drug abuse, mental health, infectious diseases, and much more.
- $8 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, for treatment and prevention programs.
- $8 million from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
- $39 million from the Children and Families Services Program.
- $4 million from the Aging and Disability Services Programs.
- $3 million from the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, including more than $1 million from the Pandemic Influenza and BioShield Fund.