ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The Trump administration is canceling English classes, legal aid and recreational activities like soccer for the many unaccompanied migrant children in federal shelters nationwide. The White House is citing a budget crunch. They say the shelter program could run out of money this month. Meanwhile, the number of migrant children apprehended crossing the southern border without a parent or legal guardian has reached a record high in May.
NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration and is here in the studio with us. Hey, Joel.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Tell us more about this new decision by the administration.
ROSE: Well, this came from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is charged with caring for minors until they're placed with a sponsor inside the U.S. And ORR oversees a network of federally contracted shelters all over the country. These are mostly nonprofits. Right now there are 13,200 migrant children in their care. And ORR is telling these shelters to scale back or end any activities that are, quote, "not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety," unquote.
And migrant advocates are outraged. They are questioning the legality of this move. They say these children are entitled to an education and recreation, and they're especially aggravated about this decision to take away legal services. These are kids who are likely in deportation proceedings, many of whom are seeking asylum. Wendy Young is the president of the nonprofit Kids in Need of Defense.
WENDY YOUNG: These are young, very vulnerable children, many of whom are fleeing extreme violence in Central America. They need our help. And this decision needs to be reversed.
SHAPIRO: Why did the administration make this decision now?
ROSE: In a word, money. The Office of Refugee Resettlement says this influx of migrant children at the southern border is straining its budget. And just today, CBP, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, announced that a huge number of unaccompanied migrant children crossed the southern border last month - nearly 12,000 or more than twice the number that were crossing just six months ago. The administration says it simply doesn't have the resources to handle this influx. The White House has requested nearly $3 billion to shore up this migrant shelter program, but Congress has yet to approve any additional money.
SHAPIRO: We've been hearing for months about the growing numbers of migrants and migrant children crossing the southern border. And what's this latest number for May?
ROSE: Well, as I said, CBP released these May numbers today, and they show another sharp increase across the board. A total of more than 144,000 migrants were taken into custody after crossing the southern border in May. That's the third month in a row with more than a hundred thousand. The majority are Central American migrants who are apprehended or turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents after crossing illegally. And immigration authorities say this is overwhelming the system. Here's acting CBP Commissioner John Sanders today speaking to reporters.
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JOHN SANDERS: We are in a full-blown emergency, and I cannot say this stronger. The system is broken. Nearly 680,000 people have been encountered so far this fiscal year on the southwest border. That is more than the population of Miami.
ROSE: A little bit more detail about who these migrants are - nearly 89,000 of these migrants were traveling as part of a family unit. That is a monthly record total up considerably from the last few months, which were also records. And the Border Patrol apprehended more than 11,000 unaccompanied migrant children. That is a higher total than any of the monthly totals from 2014, which is when the Obama administration confronted its own surge in migrants.
SHAPIRO: So what will these changes mean for the kids who are held in these facilities?
ROSE: Right now these kids are held in the facilities on average about six weeks before they're placed with a sponsor. Usually that's a family member, often a parent who is already living in the U.S. and now they're going to be held in these facilities that will feel a lot more like detention centers. And that is not what is supposed to happen under various federal laws and court agreements that spell out very specifically who these - how these children are supposed to be cared for.
So we could see legal challenges to this cutback from the Trump administration, or Congress could step in and appropriate more money. Migrant advocates and the Trump administration don't agree on much these days. I think they would both like to see Congress appropriate more funding for migrant shelters.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Joel Rose reporting on the Trump administration's latest moves to take away services from children who have crossed the southern border. Joel, thanks a lot.
ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.