A federal inspector general announced an audit Monday of an emergency shelter the Biden administration set up to care for illegal immigrant children caught at the Mexican border without parents.
The review, expected to be completed this year, will look at whether the Health and Human Services Department was properly caring for the kids and working quickly enough to get them released. The focus is a tent city built at Fort Bliss, in Texas, which the Biden administration erected as a place for migrant children to be housed in order to get them out of Border Patrol facilities, where thousands had piled up in March.
All sides agree that the Border Patrol stations were not suitable for the children, but the emergency facility at Fort Bliss has faced its own questions.
“In the months since [the Fort Bliss facility] opened, several individuals have raised concerns about the quality of case management provided there, and its negative impact on children’s safety and well-being,” the HHS inspector general said in announcing the investigation as part of its updated work plans.
Two whistleblowers, both federal employees who volunteered to work at the Texas base, have said they saw children’s needs ignored, and said companies the government contracted to help at the facility didn’t have properly trained or qualified workers.
More stark were the evaluations of court-appointed monitors, who in June reported girls at Fort Bliss faced “frequent lice outbreaks” and the facility’s shortage of socks and underwear was so severe that some girls were refusing to shower because they had no clean clothing.
“Some of the girls would stay in their bunks for most of the day and ask to skip meals. In May 2021, it was reported that girls experienced panic attacks, and several were removed from the residence tents on stretchers for outside medical treatment,” the monitor said.
Volunteers, pulled off duty from other federal departments and rushed to Texas, weren’t trained in what to do, the monitor said. Those volunteers have been replaced with contract employees, but the monitor said the contractors “come from companies with little experience in supervision of children in facilities” and will need training.
The complaints were bad enough that Vice President Kamala Harris’s office said she and President Biden had ordered HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to make a trip to investigate.
But Mr. Becerra later characterized the visit as a routine check-in, and used it as an opportunity to argue that the administration was making progress on getting the children out of the government’s custody.