Migrant Children Languished in Filthy Conditions Under Eye of Untrained Contractors, Whistleblowers Say

“Laurie Elkin and Justin Mulaire, two federal employees who were detailed to the Fort Bliss emergency intake shelter near El Paso, Texas, filed a whistleblower complaint to Congress alleging they witnessed intolerable noise, filth, and odors inside the large tents where children are housed; contractors who were unqualified to work with youths; and hostility, indifference, and resistance to providing medical treatment to sick kids.”

“Elkin and Mulaire say they were repeatedly ignored or discouraged by Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) superiors when they tried to report the substandard conditions and care children were living under.
The allegations track closely with reporting from Reason and other outlets from earlier this year describing unsanitary conditions and poor care for children housed in the shelter.”

“The total number of migrant minors being held by the U.S. government has waned, from more than 20,000 to roughly 14,500, according to the latest numbers from HHS.”

Lawsuit Says Conditions Inside Biden Administration’s Shelters for Migrant Teens Are ‘Inherently Unsafe’

“In theory, these sites, run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are a way station for kids who are waiting to be reunited with relatives or other connections in the U.S. In fact, staffing problems and other issues left many kids stuck in limbo for up to a month or more in conditions that federal whistleblowers, lawyers, and the children themselves have described as filthy and chaotic.

“For months, the children we have met with at the EISs have shared one horror story after the next,” Leecia Welch, senior director of child welfare and legal advocacy at the National Center for Youth Law, said in a press release. “Children have described spending the bulk of the day on or around their cots crammed in massive tents with hundreds of other children, suffering escalating anxiety attacks from the stress of the harsh EIS environment, going weeks without clean clothes or underwear, and spending months without going outside for some fresh air. While some of the unsafe EIS facilities have been closed, mega tent encampments and mining mancamp sites like Fort Bliss and Pecos remain open with no end in sight.””

Lawsuit: Immigrant Kids Are Suicidal, Eating Rotten Food in Secretive Detention Facilities

“Over 14,000 unaccompanied minors are now in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Detained minors in their testimonials for the case described limited time outside, sporadic showers, and being served inadequate or unsafe food, including raw chicken and foul-smelling hamburgers. A 13-year-old Honduran recounted being “locked up all day” during five days in Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) custody. A 14-year-old Guatemalan girl said that detainees at a facility in Houston had to drink expired milk when they ran out of water. “I was never allowed to make a phone call while I was there,” said a 17-year-old Honduran who was in CBP custody for 11 days. Minors reported receiving few details about how long they would be in custody and many were transferred to other facilities with little notice or explanation.

Those conditions have left detained minors despondent. “I used to be able to cope with my anxiety and breathe through it, but now I feel like I’ve given up,” said a 17-year-old from Guatemala. “I feel like I’ll never get out of here.” One child was placed on suicide watch and another described how difficult it was to get an appointment with a counselor, though many girls in detention “have thoughts of cutting themselves.” Teens have resorted to cutting themselves with their identification cards since employees at one facility banned pencils, pens, toothbrushes, and even the metal nose clips of N95 face masks over concerns of self-harm, according to testimony and worker accounts.

“There is no one here I can talk to about my case,” said a 17-year-old Honduran detainee. “There’s also no one here I can talk to when I’m feeling sad. There’s no one here; I just talk to God. It helps me and I cry. It would help if I could have a Bible.””