Housing the migrant children who arrive in America unaccompanied and those who have been separated from their parents at the border is a big business — one that now costs taxpayers more than $1 billion a year.
Millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars have been poured in increasing amounts into the federal system of shelters in which unaccompanied children wind up — including the thousands who entered and were then separated from their parents under the “zero tolerance” policy initiated in April by the Trump administration, records show.
Public money flows to nonprofits and philanthropic trusts as well as for-profit entities, and the spending has accelerated year after year, according to federal contract records.
Spending on the Unaccompanied Alien Child Program began to take off during the Obama administration and the trend has continued under President Trump, rising from $478.1 million in fiscal year 2015 to $943.3 million in fiscal 2018.
And that doesn’t count at least another $129.5 million paid to the for-profit vendors who provide services such as transportation, security and health care at these shelters.
The program costs $1.072 billion, and the money keeps flowing.
Just last week, 32 nonprofits received grants totaling $242.7 million, or 25% of the total spent since Trump signed off on the federal budget in March. Some $14.4 million of that amount went to six groups that are based in New York State.
The 100-plus shelters scattered across the country are run by charities and church groups that were already housing and finding foster care for the thousands of unaccompanied children who have arrived at the U.S. border in the last few years.
The charities and church groups whose duties include running the Unaccompanied Alien Child Program in New York
State have seen their revenue double, from $73.9 million in fiscal 2015 to $154.2 million this year.
Some of the executives at these charities take home hefty six-figure salaries, a review of tax records shows.
For instance, Jeremy Cohomban, CEO of Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry, Westchester County, received $568,999 in salary and other compensation, according the group’s 2016 tax forms. The group’s contracts under the Unaccompanied Alien Child Program rose from $16.6 million in fiscal 2015 to $19.4 million this fiscal year.
Since April, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the arrest of all migrants who illegally enter the U.S., more than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents and placed in the same shelters with some 10,000 children who entered the country unaccompanied.
A crucial aspect of this system is its reliance on the for-profit companies that have made millions off of this system over the last few years. The government pays millions to these contractors, who provide support services to nonprofit providers, and some of those companies have spotty records.
Often, these companies are located thousands of miles from the southwestern border where “zero tolerance” has been taking effect, and their profits have grown along with the number of children entering the system.
Way up near the Adirondacks in upstate New York, Deployed Resources of Rome, N.Y. — which states that it’s a veteran-owned business — has seen its government contracts jump dramatically.
Back in fiscal 2015, Deployed had a paltry $287,000 contract with the federal Homeland Security Department to provide meals for the unaccompanied children who were picked up in the Rio Grande sector of Texas.
This fiscal year, the firm’s contract has jumped to $5.1 million.
Deployed’s chief operating officer, Victor DeMasi, did not respond to several requests to discuss the firm’s involvement in this controversial program.
Deployed is one of a handful of government contractors that has raked in millions of taxpayer dollars as the Trump administration separated children from parents arrested crossing the border illegally.
Not all companies are comfortable with the addition of children separated from their parents.
Before the President’s announcement Wednesday that he was ending the separation policy, American Airlines asked that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “immediately refrain from using American for the purpose of transporting children who have been separated from their families due to the current immigration policy.”
Another firm that’s provided transportation to unaccompanied minors since 2014, MVM Security of Virginia, made a point of releasing a statement this week emphasizing that since the implementation of the Trump separation policy, the firm has not been asked to transport children on an “emergency” basis, which would include kids separated at the border.
“At the direction of the company’s leadership, we have removed job postings related to readiness operations under the current zero tolerance policy,” Joe Arabit, MVM’s director of homeland security and public safety division, said in the statement. “MVM has not pursued any new contracts associated with undocumented families and children since the implementation of the current policy.”
However, MVM — which lists itself as a Hispanic-owned firm — has made millions transporting unaccompanied children. The flow of government checks jumped significantly, from $4 million in April 2017 to $42.9 million as of April 3.
The bulk of the millions spent on the Unaccompanied Alien Children program wind up in the coffers of the nonprofits that provide shelter and try to place the youngsters with foster families.
The value of contracts they receive from the Health and Human Services Department has ballooned in each of the last four year, records show.
With Nicole Hensley and Reuven Blau
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