Trump White House spending $33 million to house ‘imaginary’ migrants at empty detention camp

Chris Riotta
Migrants applying for asylum in Laredo, Texas: AP

Donald Trump’s administration has spent roughly $33m (£26.3m) in the past seven weeks to staff an immigrant detention centre for unaccompanied minors in Texas that has been completely empty since last month, according to officials.

The last child left the Homestead detention centre on 3 August, and yet the sprawling facilities have reportedly remained staffed to house as many as 1,200 immigrants at once.

Jonathan Hayes, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, acknowledged the soaring figures during a congressional hearing on Wednesday about immigrant children in US custody and their specific mental health needs.

The revelations about how much has been spent by the federal government to keep the empty facilities staffed were made when Mr Hayes was asked by Wisconsin Democrat Mark Pocan if his office was in fact spending $600 (£478) a day to pay for each of the 1,200 available beds.

“It’s the beds, but yes sir,” Mr Hayes said.

He said the initial idea was to keep the facilities open after sudden influxes of unaccompanied minors left detention centres inundated with newly-arriving migrants earlier this year. Reopening and re-staffing the Homestead centre would take “a minimum of 90 to 120 days,” according to Mr Hayes.

The plan was made to keep the facilities open “given the extreme uncertainty of referrals coming across our nation's southern border and how many kids we might have to care for,” Mr Hayes said.

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Closing Homestead “isn't really a switch that we're ready to turn off at this point”, he added.

Mr Pocan then chided the official over the staggering costs to keep the Homestead facilities open for “invisible, imaginary, nonexistent human beings".

While officials saw a high of nearly 16,000 unaccompanied migrant children in US custody last year, there are currently about 5,700, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Mr Trump and his administration were criticised by Democrats at the hearing for taking hard-line immigration policies at the US-Mexico border that they said only further contributed to the humanitarian crisis in the region.

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The president was forced to roll back several of those policies, including one that extended the amount of time migrant children were in custody by requiring every single person in a household to receive fingerprint background checks before a child can be released to anyone in that family unit.

Mr Trump also signed an executive order ending his zero tolerance policy — which began the systematic separation of migrant families at the southern border — after a swift backlash and nationwide demonstrations.

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