Two federal whistleblowers who witnessed horrific conditions during a 30-day volunteer shift at the Fort Bliss detainment center near El Paso, Texas, filed a complaint to Congress on Wednesday, July 7. The complaint alleges that the children who were being “housed” in large tents at the youth centers were in conditions that “caused physical, mental, and emotional harm affecting dozens of children.”
The whistleblower complaint serves as a stark reminder that the migrant crisis, and in particular the crisis when it comes to unaccompanied minors being forced to live in inhospitable conditions, is far from over, even under a new administration.
The two whistleblowersper Reason, said that they saw conditions in which the children, who were being housed in large tents, were subject to “intolerable noise, filth, and odors,” and that those tasked with taking care of them “were unqualified to work with youths,” and that when it came to getting the children medical care, they were met with “hostility, indifference, and resistance.”
The whistleblowers said that superiors within the Department of Health and Human Services had ignored their complaints or discouraged them from lodging them, which is horrific given just how bad the conditions at Fort Bliss sound like they are.
They allege that those who were in charge of caretaking for the kids – federal contractors staffed by Servpro, a “fire and water cleanup and restoration” business – were wholly untrained, unprepared, and ill-equipped to care for children.
Perhaps the hardest parts of the complaint to read are those that detail lack of medical care and attention given to those who need it; one of the whistleblowers, Laurie Elkin, detailed finding a girl in a bunk bed who was “ghostly pale,” and who was bleeding continuously after not having had a period for months.
When she tried to get the girl medical attention, two contractors stalled Elkin and did not understand why the girl would need a doctor. She detailed two other stories of girls struggling with their health.
They also reported that, while almost all of the children did not speak English, most of the workers who were staffing the detainment center did not speak Spanish or the other languages the children spoke.
Loudspeakers were set at “an intolerable volume,” per the complaint, and at the beginning of every day, staffers “blasted music at the children starting early in the morning and periodically throughout the day.”
One day, the report alleges, when the children did not wake up fast enough, a contractor “went up and down a tent aisle yelling at the children through a bullhorn to get it. When that, too, did not meet the results she hoped for, she turned on the bullhorn’s siren. ”
Dust, sand, and the stench of sewage were reportedly ever-present during their time at the facility, and clean bedding and clothing were not provided to the kids.
And while the detainment centers, in theory, are supposed to be a stopover of days or weeks until children can be placed in more permanent housing situations, in practice, many children have been stuck in these centers for longer periods of time, which makes the lack of cleanliness far worse.
The complaint alleges: “Although many children were housed in these tents for as long as two months (or more), it appeared their bedding was never washed; many beds were visibly dirty. ”
The kids also allegedly did not have sufficient access to clean underwear, or socks, which led them to be unwilling to bathe or exercise because they did not have clean clothes to wear.
Sadly, the whistleblower report confirms a basic truth – that the treatment of unaccompanied migrant minors in this country is still unacceptable, uncaring, and negligent to the health of these innocent kids.