'Tent cities' for migrant children reportedly cost much more than detaining families together

  • It reportedly costs $775 per person per night to keep the newly separated children of families who cross the U.S. border illegally in "tent cities."
  • The per-person cost at certain detention centers that would keep families together is $298 per night, according to an agency estimate from 2014, NBC reported.
  • The Trump administration plans to spend almost a billion dollars to detain and house children in the 2018 fiscal year, according to Health and Human Services data reviewed by Bloomberg.
Occupants at Casa Padre, an immigrant shelter for unaccompanied minors, in Brownsville, Texas, U.S., are seen in this photo provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, June 14, 2018.
ACF | HHS | Reuters
Occupants at Casa Padre, an immigrant shelter for unaccompanied minors, in Brownsville, Texas, U.S., are seen in this photo provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, June 14, 2018.

It costs $775 per person per night to keep the newly separated children of families who cross the U.S. border illegally in "tent cities," NBC News reported Wednesday, citing a Health and Human Services official.

That's more than twice as much as it would cost to keep the migrant children together with their families in certain detention centers, such as the U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement's Texas facility, NBC reported.

The per-person cost at one of those centers is $298 per night, according to an agency estimate from 2014, NBC reported.

The HHS official, and several former officials, told NBC that the high costs come from the need to immediately supply the newly constructed tents with air conditioning, as well as medical workers and other employees.

The official told NBC that HHS is "aggressively looking for potential sites" to build more tent cities, which have been built specifically to house migrant children along the U.S.' southern border. HHS did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment or confirmation.

The Justice Department declined to comment in response to CNBC's request for information about the research that informed Attorney General Jeff Sessions' April decision to issue a "zero tolerance" directive toward prosecuting migrants illegally crossing the U.S. border.

More than 2,000 migrant children have been separated from their families as a result of that policy.

That number is expected to grow more quickly as the government allocates more resources towards dealing with immigrants.

The Trump administration plans to spend almost a billion dollars to detain and house children in the 2018 fiscal year, according to Health and Human Services data reviewed by Bloomberg.

Almost half of that funding will go to a single Texas nonprofit, Bloomberg said. That nonprofit, Southwest Key Programs, will reportedly be paid $458 million in 2018.

An investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting and The Texas Tribune found that Southwest Key Programs was cited by state inspectors for more than 246 violations, including an October incident in which an employee showed up to on Texas facility while drunk.

That investigation found that serious misconduct was often overlooked by the government despite allegations of mistreatment from state inspectors at a number of facilities that have since been awarded government contracts to care for immigrant children.

Data showed the government awarded $1.5 billion between 2014 and 2018 to companies facing serious allegations of child mistreatment in their shelters. In some instances, state inspectors found that children with medical needs like burns, a broken wrist, and sexually transmitted diseases were not provided medical attention.