Children have faced “frequent lice outbreaks” at one emergency shelter in Texas set up to handle the surge of juveniles jumping the border, a court-ordered audit says.
At a shelter in San Diego, children were denied chances to phone their families for up to three weeks while authorities tried to figure out whether the calls were appropriate and safe.
Children can now place calls within two days of arriving, but the bungle is one of many that the Biden administration has made as the migrant surge continues and record numbers of children are showing up without parents.
At the shelter in Texas, the government rushed in volunteers to help the children but forgot to tell them how to solve the problem, the audit found. When children said they needed to see a doctor or speak with a counselor, the volunteers were reluctant to take them, even though they were told to honor every such request.
Girls suffered panic attacks and faced “frequent lice outbreaks.”
“Some of the girls would stay in their bunks for most of the day and ask to skip meals,” said Andrea Sheridan Ordin and Dr. Paul H. Wise, the auditors appointed by Judge Dolly M. Gee to report about conditions for unaccompanied alien children, or UAC, in government custody.
The auditors said girls refused to take showers because the facility didn’t give them clean clothes to wear afterward, and socks, underwear and soap were in short supply.
The facility is now offering daily Zumba exercise classes, the auditor noted.
The findings were reported just before a hearing, where Judge Gee is expected to take stock of the children’s treatment during the surge.
The Washington Times has sought comment from the Health and Human Services Department’s division that oversees the office of refugee resettlement, which runs the UAC program.
The audit did credit the Biden administration for expediting the release of children from Border Patrol custody into the care of HHS and then to families or other sponsors.
The numbers are staggering.
As of Monday, the Homeland Security Department had 867 children in custody at the border and the refugee resettlement office had 14,661 children in its shelters. That is a major improvement from the end of March, when nearly 6,000 children were being held at the border, and from early May, when more than 22,000 children were mired in the refugee resettlement shelters.
The refugee resettlement office has been moving children through its doors at a stunning pace. On several days, more than 700 children were cleared for release.
Balancing the children’s safety with the rights of parents or relatives, including those living in the U.S. illegally, has proved tough.
When a relative or other sponsor is approved to take custody of a child, the audit said, they often have only a couple of hours to show up. The government tries to process the children through the system as quickly as possible to make room for hundreds of new arrivals each day.
The audit also found a lack of staffing able to handle case management — the process of matching children with sponsors. Juveniles said they waited weeks to speak with a manager.
Some of the children told their own stories in court filings this week.
A 17-year-old girl from El Salvador said she is six months pregnant and is getting proper medical care at a shelter in Long Beach, California. But she said she is having trouble connecting with her sponsor, a cousin of her father’s, who lives in Los Angeles.
“I’ve asked for clean clothes but haven’t gotten them. I asked for pants because my legs were cold, and they said I’d get them but I never did. When I ask for certain things, sometimes I never get it and then I get tired of asking so I give up,” said the girl, whose name was redacted from the public filings.
A 13-year-old from Honduras staying at a shelter in San Antonio said bullying from older children has been a problem.
“I have recreation once a day,” the child wrote. “I walk around. We get about 10 minutes outside. It’s once a day, except yesterday and the day before we didn’t go outside.”
A 17-year-old girl from Honduras said staffers told the children to sleep during the day and then got angry when they weren’t sleepy at night. Some refused to let the children use a bathroom.
“If you asked for more food, they wouldn’t let you have it, but they would sit at tables where we could see them and they would eat and laugh at us,” the girl said.
She said adults would take some children outside at night, spreading fears of kidnappings.
Some children did report generally good treatment, including regular phone calls to relatives. One said children were even allowed to make special Mother’s Day calls.
Many of the children specifically remarked on the English lessons and other government-provided schooling, and some said they were allowed to shower every other day.