Since the last child left a south Florida facility housing unaccompanied immigrant minors on Aug. 3, the federal government has spent more than $33 million to keep the massive detention center open.
Jonathan Hayes, director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency in charge of housing unaccompanied immigrant children, said during congressional testimony Wednesday that the Homestead facility was currently staffed to hold 1,200 children, though there are none housed at the center.
Keeping the facility open costs about $720,000 a day, Hayes said, at a price of approximately $600 per child. If the facility were to be shut down, it would take 90 to 120 days to reactivate it in the event it was suddenly needed, he said.
Since March 2018, more than 14,300 unaccompanied immigrant children have been placed in the Homestead facility, ORR said. After the last child left Homestead, the facility reduced its capacity from 2,700 beds to 1,200.
"Given the extreme uncertainty of referrals coming across our nation's southern border and how many kids we might have to care for, that isn't really a switch that we're ready to turn off at this point," Hayes told a House appropriations subcommittee.
The cost of keeping Homestead running was revealed under questioning from Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, who expressed disbelief at the price tag for what he called "invisible, imaginary, nonexistent human beings."
The number of undocumented immigrants apprehended along the southern border has declined since May, which the Trump administration has said is a direct result of the president's immigration policies, including forcing asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated in the US. The drop in border crossings also comes amid a crackdown on immigrants in Mexico trying to reach the US border.
In August, Border Patrol apprehended 3,729 unaccompanied children, a significant drop from May, when more than 11,000 were taken into custody.
In December 2018, the number of children held in federal shelters and facilities like Homestead reached 14,600, the Washington Post reported, up from 9,200 when President Donald Trump took office.
The spike in unaccompanied minors in federal custody coincided with an increase in the amount of time children were held — reaching 93 days in November 2018 — after a much-criticized policy required fingerprint background checks of all people in a household an unaccompanied child would be released to.
Previously, only a sponsor was required to submit to the more extensive background check. The policy increased the time needed to vet sponsors and households and spread fear among those who lived in homes with undocumented immigrants.
The policy was discontinued in December 2018.