Whistleblower says migrant children at Fort Bliss face depression, filthy conditions
This article features Government Accountability Project and our clients Arthur Pearlstein and Lauren Reinhold and was originally published here.
EL PASO, Texas (CBS4) — A whistleblower complaint that was presented to Congress on Wednesday stated that the migrant children housed at Fort Bliss faced filthy conditions and didn’t have the proper mental health services, according to a report from CBS News.
The whistleblowers are two individuals who volunteered to work at the facility said in the complaint that they saw distraught migrant children, some with suicidal thoughts. The whistleblowers said those children were referred to staff who were not qualified to assess their trauma and mental needs.
According to the report, some children requested to speak to a counselor and were denied or dismissed.
Arthur Pearlstein, a director at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, interviewed dozens of children who had symptoms of depression, including concerns about self-harm.
The whistleblowers said in the complaint that overcrowding inside the tents led to the accumulation of waste and dirty clothes. The volunteers also reported shortages of underwear for the migrant boys.
The whistleblower complaint also mentioned that COVID-19 was widespread among children and eventually spread to many employees.
Many children contracted COVID-19 in the overcrowded conditions and adequate face masks were not provided to the migrant children nor were the use of enforcement, according to the complaint.
The complaint mentioned that there was a big problem of the spread of lice to the point that the girl’s tent with hundreds of girls had to be lockdown due to the lie.
The Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., filed the whistleblower complaint on behalf of Pearlstein and Lauren Reinhold, an attorney at the Social Security Administration. It was shared with four congressional committees, the Office of Special Counsel and the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the tent camp.
According to the CBS News report, out of the concern that children could harm themselves, Fort Bliss officials banned pencils, nail clippers and even toothbrushes. The complaint mentioned that “riots” broke out in the tents housing the boys.
The federal volunteers mentioned in the complaint that dozens of migrant teens had been housed longer than 30 days at the facility and some longer than 60 days.
The unaccompanied migrant children in HHS are supposed to be placed with family members in the U.S. while they have court proceedings or requests of asylum or humanitarian relief.
HHS had said that the number of migrant children at Fort Bliss had decreased 82 percent in June.
According to CBS News, as of Tuesday, the tent is housing 1,692 children, including 1,145 boys and 547 girls.
According to CBS News, HHS set up enough tents and cots to hold up to 10,000 minors at Fort Bliss. According to recent government documents obtained by CBS News, the site’s maximum capacity is now 4,000, which continues to make it the largest U.S. holding facility for migrant children.
Some federal government volunteers spoke to CBS News and described the facility as jail-like “dystopian summer camp.”
The whistleblower complaint said federal volunteers who were demobilized left Fort Bliss with “serious concerns about the welfare and safety of the children who remained and who would be housed there in the future.”
HHS has not allowed the press to go inside the Fort Bliss facility.
CBS4 Local has reached out to HHS but is waiting to hear back.