The United States government is suspending educational, legal and recreational programs for the migrant children under its care as part of budget cuts, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

About 13,200 migrant children are currently housed in over 100 shelters across the US. These include children who were separated from their parents or those who crossed the border alone. They are taught a number of subjects, including English and mathematics.

The Health and Human Services Department said that its agency that houses the migrant children, Office of Refugee Resettlement, had asked the US Congress for additional funding of $2.88 billion. The Office of Refugee Resettlement also “instructed grantees to begin scaling back or discontinuing awards for UAC [unaccompanied minor] activities that are not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation”, according to The New York Times.

“As we have said, we have a humanitarian crisis at the border brought on by a broken immigration system that is putting tremendous strain [on the agency],” Health and Human Services spokesperson Evelyn Stauffer was quoted as saying by PTI. “Additional resources are urgently required to meet the humanitarian needs created by this influx – to both sustain critical child welfare and release operations and increase capacity.”

Migrant children spend time in a recreation area outside Casa Presidente, an immigrant shelter for unaccompanied minors, in Brownsville in Texas on June 23, 2018 | REUTERS

Child welfare activists have warned the government that such a move would be in violation of a 1997 settlement that established the standards for migrant children at government facilities. “If this administration goes forward with denying education, recreation and other unspecified ‘non-essential services’ they would be in flagrant violation of the Flores settlement and will face immediate legal action,” said Neha Desai, Director for Immigration at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland.

“To those of us whose job it is to promote the health and safety of children, this is a shocking directive,” Psychiatrist Amy Cohen told The New York Times. “It violates every tenet of basic child welfare practice and will further harm the medical and psychological health of children fleeing extraordinarily dangerous circumstances in their home countries.”