EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A pair of federal court filings this week are demanding improvements at migrant holding facilities at Fort Bliss and other sites where children allegedly live in crowded, sometimes unsanitary conditions with inadequate access to mental health services.
The June 21 filings cite the latest Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Juvenile Coordinator Report and independent monitor Paul Wise’s findings of:
- Prolonged detention of children ages 13-17;
- Communal tents housing up to 500 children with little to no privacy;
- Bunk beds almost at floor level that are often dusty;
- Boredom, hopelessness and anxiety due to prolonged detention, with instances of children sent for external medical care after suffering panic attacks;
- Inadequate access to timely mental health services and children waiting weeks to hear about the status of their family reunification case;
- At least 122 children staying at the Fort Bliss site for more than two months – way in excess of the 20 days mandated by the 1997 Flores agreement.
“Obviously, these conditions and treatment fall below the standards of a properly licensed placement, which the (Flores) settlement requires ORR to make available to children as expeditiously as possible,” the briefs state.
The advocates allege poor case management at Fort Bliss and the other Emergency Intake Sites (EIS) facilities unnecessarily delay the release of children and harms them emotionally.
“Some of the girls (at Fort Bliss) would stay in their bunks for most of the day and ask to skip meals,” the filings state. “In May, it was reported that girls experienced panic attacks and several were removed from the residence tents on stretchers for outside medical treatment.”
Frequent lice outbreaks were reported in late May, which also caused the girls at the Fort Bliss EIS “to be quite anxious.”
The report’s findings mirror concerns previously expressed to Border Report and KTSM by former contract workers at the HHS facility in Fort Bliss. HHS responded to detailed questions about the allegations with a generic factsheet about the facility.
The Associated Press reported this week that the Biden administration is reporting a drop in the number of children in emergency shelters, from a high of 14,500 in April to fewer than 8,000 children.
At Fort Bliss, which is the administration’s largest emergency shelter, the number of children has dropped from about 4,800 to 1,600, AP reported.
(Roxanne Van Ruiten/KTSM contributed to this report.)