Capitol Alert

Yolo County ‘substantially subsidized’ detention of teenage immigrants, state audit says

Yolo County “substantially subsidized” parts of the federal government’s program to house unaccompanied immigrant children, according to a new report from the California State Auditor’s Office.

The state auditor estimates that Yolo County might have paid about $700,000 in program costs that could have been covered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Yolo County has a contract with the department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement to house up to 24 unaccompanied immigrant teens in the Yolo Juvenile Facility.

As part of the refugee program, immigrant children who “pose a risk to themselves or others or have been charged with a criminal offense” are typically placed in juvenile detention centers, the report said.

In most other cases unaccompanied immigrant children are released to sponsors when possible or placed with state-licensed programs that serve dependent children.

The state auditor’s report said Yolo County failed to include “all allowable costs” in previous budget requests it submitted to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, resulting in the county spending its own funds to cover some program costs.

According to the report, Yolo County officials said they were “unaware” that certain education, medical and programming services could be paid for by federal funds.

Last year, the Office of Refugee Resettlement also was responsible for housing children separated from their families at the Mexico border under a controversial Trump administration policy that aimed to deter people from attempting border crossings.

Dan Fruchtenicht, chief probation officer for Yolo County, told the auditor that the county “has not received any youth separated from their family as a result of the Trump admini ‘zero-tolerance’ immigration policy.’”

The county’s agreement with the Office of Refugee Resettlement has attracted criticism in the past. In April 2018 Brent Cardell, the county’s chief probation officer at the time, recommended that the facility close amid limited staffing shortages and frequent assaults on employees.

In June the county board of supervisors decided to retain the contract after the federal government approved an additional $2 million in funding for staffing increases.

“Yolo County recently provided a comprehensive budget for the 2019/2020 grant year that accounts for all anticipated costs in the coming year,” Fruchtenicht wrote to the auditor. “We are continuing to actively evaluate the methodology of this budget, specifically in the direct and contractual costs areas, to ensure the program remains entirely federally-funded.”

The federal department overseeing the refugee program did not respond to a request for comment from The Sacramento Bee.

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