Housing unaccompanied minors is costing the U.S. at least $60 million a week

Housing unaccompanied minors is costing the U.S. at least $60 million a week
AP Photo/Gregory Bull

The Washington Post’s immigration reporter has another scoop this afternoon involving the actual cost of the border crisis. Thanks to the fact that we were unprepared for the surge of unaccompanied minors at the border, we’ve been forced to improvise with things like turning convention centers into youth hostels. But those last minute, emergency efforts aren’t very cost effective for taxpayers.

With a record number of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border in the past several weeks, HHS quickly filled the 7,700 available beds in its network of permanent shelters, where the cost of caring for a child is about $290 daily and capacity has been reduced by covid protocols.

The administration has raced to set up at least 10 large emergency facilities, creating 16,000 temporary beds for migrant children in convention centers, converted oil worker camps and on military bases. About 8,500 children are living at these pop-up sites, and 4,000 more are waiting to be transferred from cramped border facilities.

The cost of these emergency sites is more than 2½ times higher than the more-permanent shelters “due to the need to develop facilities quickly and hire significant staff over a short period of time,” said Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for HHS’s Administration for Children and Families. He said the average daily cost per child is “approximately $775 per day based on past experience.”

That $775 per day would get you a pretty nice hotel room anywhere in the country with a king-sized bed, soap, towels and a private bathroom. But that figure also includes three meals a day. Still any way you slice it it’s a substantial amount of money. The Biden administration could publish a book titled, “See America on $775 per day.” But of course in this case it’s the taxpayers, not the migrants, covering the cost.

From this point, author Nick Miroff does some math and finds that kids in HHS custody are currently there for about 31 days before they get released to a family member. That works out to about $24,000 per child and there are least 8,500 kids in the system right now with another 4,000 waiting to enter. Add it all up and you get something like $60 million per week. But that’s just the cost of the HHS housing and doesn’t include the cost of the short-term facilities CBP runs at the border.

The real concern is that this is currently predicted to get worse for the next several months. Biden administration projections leaked to Axios last month indicated we could see even higher numbers of minors every month from now through September. Migrant surges at the border historically tend to peak in the early summer and drop off as the weather gets really hot. It’s curious that the leaked projections don’t follow that trend. Maybe the administration wanted this out there so that the real numbers would look good by comparison.

The really striking thing about all of this figuring is that none of it is remotely conclusive. The cost figures are approximations based on past experience. The duration of this is a projected figure based on who knows what. In sum, these figures are just the best current guesses and the real cost is probably going to be very different. As Miroff reports, the agency just got 47.5 billion out of the Democrats’ Cares Act, so they shouldn’t need to come back to Congress for more this year.

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