Contractors With No Childcare Experience Running Texas Youth Holding Facility, Whistleblowers Say
18:32 GMT 28.07.2021 (Updated: 18:53 GMT 28.07.2021)
© AP Photo / Juan Carlos LlorcaCars wait to enter Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, Tuesday Sept. 9, 2014
© AP Photo / Juan Carlos Llorca
A separate whistleblower complaint earlier this month expressed similar concerns about the same facility.
Two career US federal government employees have filed a whistleblower complaint to Congress, the Office of the Inspector General, and responsible agencies expressing major public health and safety-related concerns over conditions at the Fort Bliss youth migrant detention facility.
Arthur Pearlstein and Lauren Reinhold, a pair of career federal civil servants who served as volunteers at Fort Bliss between April and June 2021, came forward to list problems, including issues with the private contractors hired by the federal government to assist in the facility’s management.
According to whistleblowers, the facility is beset by “organisational chaos,” with “gross mismanagement, gross waste, and abuse of authority” reigning in management, and “private contractors – not federal employees…essentially in charge of virtually all functions.”
On top of “private contractor failings, federal employee managers” are accused of failing to act “time and time again” to resolve problems, from the provision of clean underwear and other basic supplies, to “disturbing” incidents of sexual harassment.
A range of other problems was reported, including:
- Employees detailed to assess children’s mental and emotional health having no relevant experience in this area.
- Assigning qualified personnel with experience in child work for ‘line of sight’ observer duty at a dormitory tent.
- “Constant” changes in policies and leadership decisions by management, including on the transfer of detainees and the work schedules of detailees.
- Failure to assure children at the facility that they are safe, that their basic needs would be met, that their sponsorship or placement cases were being processed, with some children reporting that they had not even been assigned case managers after spending weeks at Fort Bliss.
- Widespread Covid infections among children and employees amid overcrowded conditions, lack of proper masks, and deliberate efforts to downplay infections.
- The dismissal of the needs of children suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.
- Cramped quarters at the vast, airplane hangar-sized tents being used to house children, and the noise, bullying and other social issues that accompany them.
- A dirty environment and lack of efforts to provide basic hygiene for the minors.
- Orders to maintain confidentiality from the media and a lack of internal recourse to address problems.
The fresh whistleblower complaint comes after a separate filing was made earlier this month which similarly revealed instances of an utter lack of professionalism, organisation, or concern about children’s well-being, lack of knowledge of the Spanish language among employees dealing with Spanish-speaking youth, lack of training or guidance, and general gross mismanagement constituting a threat to public health and safety.
The allegations come amid the ongoing crisis at the US southern border, which Mexican and Guatemalan officials have blamed on the Biden administration’s vague messaging suggesting that it would be more welcoming of illegal immigrants, and on the president’s moves to scrap nearly a dozen hardline immigration policies enacted by his predecessor.
According to Customs and Border Patrol Data, border patrol agents apprehended over 188,000 migrants on the US southern border in the month of June, bringing the total number of apprehensions since October 2020 to more than 1.1 million.