Two volunteers from a migrant facility Fort Bliss have come forward with allegations of “Gross Mismanagement” of children at a migrant facility. The whistleblowers have accused the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of utilizing a fire and water damage company to help monitor children, dirty beds, not providing regular clean clothes and underwear, not providing medical care, and much more. These observations were allegedly reported to HHS with no response.
The two volunteers being represented by Government Accountability Project Laurie Elkin and Justin Mulaire have come forward with allegations of “Gross Mismanagement” of the migrant children at Fort Bliss. Allegations against one of the largest migrant facilities under the Biden Administration include and hiring a company with no experience or expertise in watching children, ignoring children who needed medical attention, dirty beds, and no clean clothes or underwear.
Mulaire also noted that children aren’t seeing their caseworkers regularly, causing one child to be lost in the system. Elkin also states she witnessed one child being told they were going home and they were told last minute that they had made a mistake and were, “sent back to their tents.”
According to the complaint, one main issue at Fort Bliss is the utilization of staff that has no experience or training in working with children. HHS hires staff from federal detailees and private contractors to help supervise and monitor children at the facilities. One such contractor is a company that repairs fire and water damage.
“Ms. Elkin and Mr. Mulaire learned that the contractor providing direct supervision of the children in the dormitory tents—Servpro—is a fire and water damage repair company.”
“According to its website, ‘the Servpro Industries, LLC, franchise system is a national leader of fire, water, mold, and other specialty cleanup and restoration services.’ Youth care is not in its portfolio. Contractor staff told Ms. Elkin and Mr. Mulaire that they had received no training properly to beginning work and had little guidance about what their role was.”
The complaint also states that the contractors lacked patience with the children, and mainly saw their job, “more as crowd control than youth care.”
One example of impatience includes the use of a bullhorn to wake up children in the morning, and excessive loudspeakers throughout the area.
“In one notable case, in an apparent effort to wake the children up in the morning, contract staff routinely started playing painfully loud music at around 6 am or 7 am. Early one morning, a contractor—dissatisfied that the children were not waking up fast enough—went up and down the tent aisle yelling at the children through a bullhorn to get up.”
“When that, too, did not meet with the results she hoped for, she turned on the bullhorn’s siren and walked up and down the aisle blaring that at the children.”
The high volume of the loudspeakers is emphasized several times throughout the complaint with several doctors stating that it can cause hearing damage for the children.
“The third incident report further noted that multiple U.S. Physicians Health Services doctors had also agreed that the volume of the loudspeakers was likely causing the children hearing damage.”
Elkin also stated that when reporting children who were sick, having panic attacks, or even bleeding, contractors ignored the complaints until they were pressured to give them medical care.
“Early on, Ms. Elkin noticed that one girl was sleeping continuously. Upon approaching the girl, the girl said that she felt sick with a sore throat. When Ms. Elkin asked a contractor to take the girl to the medical tent, the contractor responded by saying no and that the medical staff would not do anything for her. Ms. Elkin persisted, and the girl eventually received medical care.”
Further, Elkin and Mulaire stated that the tents at the Fort Bliss Emergency Intake Site (EIS) smelled like sewage.
“Ms. Elkin and Mr. Mulaire further report that the tents were dirty and often had a foul odor like a locker room. Moreover, because of the numerous portable restroom facilities, the odor of the sewage was not uncommon at the EIS.”
Clean beds and clothes were almost always dirty and is to the point where children are begging for clean underwear.
“Clean bedding and clothes were not regularly provided. Although many children were housed in these tents for as long as two months (or more), it appeared their bedding was never washed; many beds were visibly dirty.”
“The children also reported having insufficient clean underwear and socks, which in turn made them reluctant to exercise or to bathe because they knew they lacked clean clothes to change into. It was not uncommon in girls’ tent, for example, for the children to plead for clean underwear so that they could take a shower and have something clean to change into.”
Elkin and Mulaire also stated that they were many children who hadn’t been in contact with a caseworker for weeks and got lost in the system. Mulaire decided to go to Case Management after one boy stated he hadn’t seen his caseworker in 27 days.
“Mr. Mulaire, in talking to one younger boy, learned that he had not seen his caseworker in 27 days. The boy asked Mr. Mulaire for help. Although federal detailees had no official channel for reporting such problems, Mr. Mulaire decided to go to the Case Management tent and raise the boy’s situation with another federal detailee he knew who worked there.”
“Within about 30 seconds of scrolling through the boy’s electronic file, the Case Management worker concluded, “yeah, he’s been forgotten.’ He also commented that the boy’s case was not a difficult one and could probably be completed within a matter of days.”
Elkin also witnessed a child break down into tears after almost getting on a bus to go home, only to be told that it was a mistake, and she wasn’t going home.
“Early one morning a girl in Ms. Elkin’s tent was woken up and told that she was going home that morning. The girl, who had then been in the tent for 38 days, wept with joy and relief. She quickly changed into street clothes to look good and said her tearful goodbyes. She was then taken to the case management tent to wait for the bus with other children that were going home that day.”
“Ms. Elkin went to the case management tent to see the girl off. On the verge of leaving after more than seven weeks at the facility, the girl was suddenly pulled out of the bus line. She was told a ‘mistake’ had been made and that she was not going home. The girl collapsed in uncontrollable tears.”
A staff member with the HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) told Elkin that Washington knows about this problem.
“An ORR staffer told Ms. Elkin, ‘We are traumatizing these kids. This is terrible. This is horrible. People in Washington know. But this is an emergency situation and mistakes are going to happen.’ The staffer also said that, in fact, 47 additional children that very morning had been told they were going home only to be pulled out of the bus line and sent back to their tents”
The complaint further states that there were several complaints sent to HHS Management and all of them were ignored. They also state that this needs to be investigated.
“Whatever one might think about immigration policy, the reality is that these children are here now and are in HHS’s custody. HHS has a responsibility to make sure they are safe and treated humanely. We request and urge you to investigate promptly.”
Most of the staff also didn’t speak Spanish or any of the other languages prevalent at the facilities, making it extremely difficult for children to communicate problems.