By Bob Allen
The Obama administration paid a group related to the Baptist General Convention of Texas more than $182 million to care for undocumented immigrant children at two military facilities for four months this summer.
According to documents obtained by Judicial Watch, a conservative government watchdog group formed during scandals in the Clinton administration, the Department of Health and Human Services paid BCFS — formerly known as Baptist Children and Family Services — $182,129,786 to provide “basic shelter care” to 2,400 “unaccompanied alien children” for four months in 2014.
The average cost to the taxpayer for services provided at Fort Sill, Okla., and Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, was more than $75,000 per child.
BCFS closed the Lackland shelter after 134 days on Aug. 9. It was the largest and longest-lasting emergency response in the history of the agency formed as a Baptist children’s home in 1944.
Judicial Watch obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
In August the Baptist Standard reported that the HHS made funds available to BCFS Health & Human Services, the nonprofit agency’s domestic social-services arm, for reimbursed expenses. It is one of three subsidiaries of the donor-supported parent organization that are supported through both private donations and fee-for-service contracts with local, state and federal governments.
Most attention to the recent arrangement in Texas came from ultra-conservatives opposed to “amnesty” for “illegal aliens,” but in other cases disputes have arisen over concerns about the separation of church and state. Last year the state of Kentucky settled a 13-year-old lawsuit over taxpayer funding of Sunrise Children’s Services, formerly known as Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children.
The First Amendment ban on government establishment of religion forbids taxpayer funding for churches, but they can qualify for government grants available to other groups by setting up subsidiary nonprofits for social services separate from their religious mission.
There are potential pitfalls, however. In 2011 Illinois terminated its foster care and adoption contracts with Catholic Charities because the group refused to comply with a state law requiring couples in same-sex civil unions to be treated the same as married couples.
Last year the Kentucky Baptist Convention clashed with the top executive of Sunrise Children’s Services after he recommended the agency drop its ban on hiring gay workers because it risked losing $26 million a year in state contracts. Sunrise President Bill Smithwick, who later stepped down because of the controversy, said without help from the state the agency would be unable to provide services to nearly 2,000 children across the Commonwealth.
Holly Hollman, general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said in an Aug. 15 story by the Baptist Standard that under a 2010 executive order by President Obama, faith and community groups are prohibited from “explicitly religious” activities in any program receiving direct financial aid.
“In other words, and consistent with long-standing standards, an organization is not prevented from competing for or receiving federal money just for being religious,” she said. “The government program, however, must not include religious content.”