Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Separating Mothers From Children at Border is Wrong and Could Cost $327 Million Per Year, Estimate CAP and KIND
Press Release

RELEASE: Separating Mothers From Children at Border is Wrong and Could Cost $327 Million Per Year, Estimate CAP and KIND

Washington, D.C. — In addition to being morally reprehensible, separating mothers from their children at the border, as Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly has been said to be considering, is likely to have significant negative consequences, including high costs to taxpayers to the tune of $327 million per year, according to a new estimate by the Center for American Progress and Kids in Need of Defense.

That is because on average, according to a 2015 study by the Government Accountability Office, holding a child in shelter care run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, or ORR, costs $248 per day, and on average, children stay in ORR custody for 34 days. Operationalizing a policy of separating families would mean that children would be taken from their parents to ORR-run shelters, and parents—typically mothers—would be held in prolonged immigration detention.

“Not only would the separation of families at the border be costly in terms of great emotional harm, particularly to children and to the values our nation holds dear, but its price tag could be staggering due to the cost of detaining more children alone,” said Jennifer Podkul, director of policy at Kids in Need of Defense. “If the needless suffering such a policy would cause is not enough to turn the administration away from this plan, perhaps the significant resources it would drain will convince them that this is bad policy.”

The ORR, which has historically been underfunded, works to release unaccompanied children to parents or other sponsors in the United States as the children wait for their immigration proceedings. By locking parents up in immigration detention, this new policy would likely make it harder to find sponsors, lengthening the amount of time that children might remain in ORR custody. Children separated from their parents would likely have a harder time communicating with them and accessing the key documents and information they need to move forward with their immigration cases, all of which would likely mean longer court delays, adding to an already-overburdened immigration court system.

“It is not illegal to claim asylum in the United States, so this nation should not respond to the protection needs of those fleeing persecution with a policy of deterrence that courts already have rejected,” said Sharita Gruberg, Associate Director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.

“Rather than pursuing deterrence, DHS and the administration should tackle the underlying root causes of the violence and structural poverty pushing children and families out of Central America,” said Philip E. Wolgin, Managing Director of Immigration Policy at CAP. “In the meantime, the United States must remain a beacon of safety for those fleeing persecution. Separating parents from children only moves us away from this ideal.”

Read the analysis here.

For more information or to speak to an expert on this topic, please contact Tanya Arditi at [email protected] or 202.741.6258.


The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just and free America that ensures opportunity for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to these values and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values. We work to find progressive and pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and international problems and develop policy proposals that foster a government that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

KIND was founded by the Microsoft Corporation and UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, and is the leading national organization that works to ensure that no refugee or immigrant child faces immigration court alone. We do this in partnership with over 360 law firms, corporate legal departments, law schools, and bar associations, which provide pro bono representation to unaccompanied children referred to KIND for assistance in their deportation proceedings. KIND has received nearly 15,000 child referrals since we opened our doors in 2009, and trained over 17,000 pro bono attorneys. KIND also helps children who are returning to their home countries through deportation or voluntary departure to do so safely and to reintegrate into their home communities. Through our reintegration pilot project in Guatemala, we place children with our local nongovernmental organization partners, which provide vital social services including family reunification, school enrollment, skills training, and counseling. KIND also advocates to change law, policy, and practices to improve the protection of unaccompanied children in the United States, and is working to build a stronger regional protection framework throughout Central America and Mexico. We educate policymakers, the media, and the broader public about the violence that is driving children out of the Northern Triangle and their need for protection.