Border kids program costs millions, records show

How much is the program bringing undocumented immigrants into the state costing Texas taxpayers? Charlotte Huffman investigates.

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DALLAS - As the newest surge of refugee South American children begins arriving soon in North Texas, everything from food to clothing, counseling and medical services will be provided by the nonprofit group BCFS.

But, records show, taxpayers will be footing the bill.

Long before the buses of workers who will care for immigrant children rolled into North Texas today, San Antonio-based BCFS was tapped by the Obama administration to provide temporary shelters in North Texas at taxpayer expense.

How much is this going to cost?

Neither BCFS nor the U.S. Health and Human Services department could say today.

But, an online database search of federal contracts and grants shows that there was a spike in payments to the group coinciding with last year's surge of unaccompanied minors.

According to USAspending.gov, BCFS received $296 million to administer the government's "Unaccompanied Alien Children Program" nationwide over the past three fiscal years.

"The costs for temporary shelter operations, medical care, security, room and board are requested, vetted, proposed and authorized for by the federal government," said Krista Piferrer, BCFS spokeswoman. "All expenses are based on cost-reimbursement, which means funds are drawn down only when goods/services are requested and expended."

What the records don't show is exactly what the money bought, or where it was spent.

We do know one area where BCFS has spent dollars, though.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, BCFS, which used to be called Baptist Child & Family Services, has spent $210,000 on lobbying lawmakers since 2006.

Aside from cost, another question surrounding this newest border surge is, why are we providing shelter?

The simple answer - we are legally required to, according to experts.

"When they approach our borders, there's an obligation by Border Patrol to conduct an interview to determine whether or not they are truly unaccompanied," local immigration attorney Eric Cedillo said. "Then, they are entitled to go before an immigration judge and have their case determined."

So what can we expect moving forward? HHS says it is hard to say. Officials say the process is in the early stages and it's not clear yet how many children will ultimately need or actually use North Texas facilities. But, officials say they are committed to providing shelter and services in the most financially responsible way possible.

Email: chuffman@wfaa.com


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