Federal contractor raises allegations of sexual misconduct at Fort Bliss facility: report

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

A federal contractor at a facility housing unaccompanied minors in Fort Bliss, Texas, allegedly said staff members were engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct with minors in the shelter, according to new audio recorded during a training session.

The audio, obtained by NBC News, also includes allegations raised by the contractor of a shortage of clothing and complaints raised by minors of how staff members were waking them up.

“We have already caught staff with minors inappropriately. Is that OK with you guys?” the federal contractor reportedly asked staff members in May.

“No!” a group of voices responded.

“I hope not,” the contractor said.

The contractor also said that staff had caught minors engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct with other minors.

“If you catch them, especially if it’s a staff member, you separate that minor from that person immediately,” she said.

The contractor reportedly also noted during the May training session that minors had raised complaints regarding how they were being woken up by staff members.

“I know there have been a lot of complaints from minors about staff members waking them up in the morning,” the contractor said, according to NBC. “We’ve got some staff members that are picking up and shaking the bed to wake up the minor. Or they’re bouncing them on the bed. They think they’re being playful, but that constitutes child abuse. I want you guys to know that.”

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement Saturday that allegations are reported to the office of the inspector general and local authorities and that the department takes every allegation seriously.

“Our duty at HHS is to provide safe, appropriate care for the unaccompanied migrant children in our custody. Every emergency intake site we have launched, we started from scratch. We constantly work to improve the conditions and services required to care for children in these challenging shelter settings,” Becerra said.

Becerra said he has visited Fort Bliss before, including in July, and said he has spoken with children and site managers.

“While they are in our custody, they will continue to receive safe, appropriate care,” Becerra added.

The new audio recording is the latest example documenting allegations of mismanagement inside the facility, which houses thousands of unaccompanied children.

According to a complaint filed on Wednesday, two federal employees — Arthur Pearlstein, who works for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and Lauren Reinhold, a lawyer with the Social Security Administration — said that several companies contracted to work inside the facility had no previous experience managing a migrant facility.

“It was not clear which contractor (Chenega or Servpro) was less suited to the work — it appears neither had experience with it, nor did they perform competently or appropriately,” according to the complaint, which was filed by the Government Accountability Project.

“Contractor employees told detailees that to get their jobs, they did nothing more than submit basic employment applications. There was no follow up or vetting process, no interviews or even phone calls prior to being offered their jobs and asked when they could start,” the complaint added.

The two noted that the scope of COVID-19 infections within the facility was downplayed by officials, masks were not always provided to minors and there was a shortage of clean clothes.

Neither contractor responded to The Hill’s requests for comment on Wednesday.