According to documents and secret recordings, employees at a large child migrant center in Texas admitted to “filthy” conditions and a lack of basic supplies for the migrant children held there.
“If you took a poll, probably about 98% of the federal workers here would say it’s appalling,” a federal worker at the facility told Reason. “Everybody tries in their own way to quietly disobey and get things done, but it can be difficult.”
According to the report, over 4,500 migrant children and teenagers are being held at Fort Bliss, a Texas military facility that houses migrant minors in enormous tents that lack necessities.
The shelter located at Fort Bliss is an Army facility in El Paso, where the severe desert climate simulates circumstances in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Fort Bliss facility is growing in size while other shelters close. These shelters serve as a way for children awaiting reunions with relatives or other connections in the United States.
The Associated Press reported earlier this month that the Biden administration is detaining “tens of thousands of asylum-seeking children in an opaque network of some 200 facilities” after shifting them out of Customs and Border Protection detention centers.
Reason uncovered recordings that expose the federal government’s concern about the flow of unaccompanied minors. They also demonstrate that the shelter’s officials are well aware that they fail to provide necessities to the children under their care, such as medical care and physical protection.
“I’m not going to lie, we’ve got people dropping like flies because it’s just not something that they’re used to,” a trainer said in the recording. “This facility is growing so fast, and we are getting kids on a daily basis. We don’t have enough staff to maintain.”
The trainer also mentioned the unsanitary conditions inside the tents, which may hold up to 1,000 people in stacked bunk-style cots.
“I’ve been into one dorm, one time, and I was like, yeah, I’m not going back there,” the trainer says. “They’re filthy. They’re dirty. There’s food on the floor. There’s wet spots all over the place. The beds are dirty. I don’t know what’s going on or who’s responsible for ensuring that the dorms need to be clean, but we all need to be responsible for telling the minors to clean up after themselves.”
According to the trainer, there has been inappropriate interaction between minors and staff and between minors.
“We have already caught staff with minors inappropriately,” the trainer says. “Is that OK with you guys? I hope not. We have also caught minors with minors, which is, you know—we’ve got teenagers in this shelter. What’s happening with teenagers? Hormones, raging out of control. It’s important that we maintain safety and vigilance. Be vigilant. Stop what is happening. If you don’t watch these kids, and you’re not the one who is going to step in, who’s going to? Be that person to stand up for the minors because that’s what we’re here for.”
When children seek medical care, they are also disregarded. “Some of the incidents and complaints we’re getting also is that we’ve got minors who are requesting medical due to not feeling well, and staff members are telling them there’s nothing wrong with you, go back to your bed,” the trainer says. “These are legitimate complaints and it is my duty to let you know what is going on, because if you know who these people are, you need to report them.”
The tents “smelled like a high school locker room,” according to Leecia Welch, senior director of the National Center for Youth Law’s legal advocacy and child welfare practice, who visited them recently and confirmed that the children were not receiving clean clothes.
“Many of the boys and girls have not been given underwear, particularly ones who’ve been in COVID isolation,” a federal employee says. “After they come out, they’re issued new clothes, but no underwear. And very often it’s only one set of clothes, so no clothes to change into, and no underwear. When we have asked about it—and I personally escorted some kids to tents to ask how come they can’t get underwear—the answer is, well, the contractor is supposed to provide that.”
According to the New York Times, despite the facility’s current state, the Biden administration aims to expand it to accommodate 10,000 children, more than doubling its present capacity.
Because of its position on a military post, the shelter is also closed to the public and the press, with one federal employee saying that leaders at the camp stress its secrecy to employees.
“Secrecy is demanded at a level that might be called for if we were designing the next generation of nuclear subs, and there is absolutely no reason for it,” a federal employee said. “One can understand the need to protect the identities of individual children and not allow them to be photographed. But there is no excuse for any of the other secrecy surrounding the operation.”