HHS Whistleblowers Claim They Were Told to Hide Real COVID Situation Among Migrant Minors in Texas

This article features our clients Arthur Pearlstein and Lauren Reinhold and was originally published here.

A massive influx of unaccompanied minors left US immigration officials scrambling earlier this year for facilities to house the children. Numerous reports claimed that overcrowded sites were violating coronavirus protocols, with several cases of sexual abuse having been revealed throughout the year.

The US Department of Health and Human Services instructed its agents to conceal the actual scale of the coronavirus outbreak among children held at a facility in Fort Bliss, Texas, at the beginning of this year, according to an appeal, submitted on Wednesday to four congressional committees and government watchdogs.

The paper cites two whistleblowers, Arthur Pearlstein and Lauren Reinhold, who were said to be “career federal civil servants”, and “served as volunteer detailees at the Fort Bliss Emergency Intake Site from April through June 2021”.

The whistleblowers alleged that usually, as they completed their tasks, the HHS Public Affairs Office would give them a paper instructing them to “make everything sound positive about the Fort Bliss experience and to play down anything negative” when asked.

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a tour to an unfinished section of the border wall on June 30, 2021 in Pharr, Texas. Gov. Abbott has pledged to build a state-funded border wall between Texas and Mexico as a surge of mostly Central American immigrants crossing into the United States has challenged U.S. immigration agencies. So far in 2021, U.S. Border Patrol agents have apprehended more than 900,000 immigrants crossing into the United States on the southern border.

They also pointed out that, “every effort was made to downplay the degree of COVID infection at the site, and the size of the outbreak was deliberately kept under wraps”.

“At a ‘town hall’ meeting with detailees, a senior US Public Health Service manager was asked and refused to say how many were infected because ‘if that graph [of infections] is going to The Washington Post every day, it’s the only thing we’ll be dealing with and politics will take over, perception will take over, and we’re about reality, not perception'”, the document reads.

Aside from that, the manager at the Fort Bliss establishment allegedly didn’t pay attention to the fact that “children in the COVID tents were wearing basic disposable masks instead of N95 masks” and said that infected children don’t need N95 masks “even though uninfected detailees were working with the infected children”.

“COVID was widespread among children and eventually spread to many employees. Hundreds of children contracted COVID in the overcrowded conditions”, the complaint reads.

The document also contained other complaints related to irregularities at the facility. In particular, the authors mentioned managing problems, including a lack of clean underwear and unqualified employees working on children’s mental and emotional health.

Migrant Children in US

The immigration surge recorded in the US this year comes under a new administration that opted to abolish a number of restrictive measures imposed by the Trump administration. US President Joe Biden has allowed migrant minors, who crossed the nation’s border unaccompanied, to stay in the country.

The number of migrant children who arrived in US facilities has doubled over the past two months to 21,000, in comparison with 5,858 in January, according to the Associated Press. The sites were said to be overwhelmed as border agencies struggled to house ever increasing groups of unaccompanied children amid the pandemic. The government took efforts to open new institutions and allocate more money to maintain the children, but the HHS faced a significant shortage of civil personnel.

On Wednesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott raised concerns about the rising COVID-19 cases among migrants in custody, where the number of unaccompanied children currently stands at around 15,000. While introducing new measures to limit US border admissions, he noted that the “dramatic rise in unlawful border crossings has also led to a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases among unlawful migrants who have made their way into our state”.

In the meantime, the White House, according to Politico, will postpone phasing out its use of the public health order known as Title 42, stipulating that a person seeking to enter the US should be expelled if they recently visited a country where a communicable disease was present.