June 29, 2023

Government Accountability Project Raises Ongoing Concerns About ORR Emergency Operations for Unaccompanied Immigrant Minors Amidst News of New Influx Site

WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, CBS News reported the Biden administration and Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) intend to open an “influx care facility” at the site of a former boarding school in Greensboro, North Carolina this August. Holding up to 800 unaccompanied immigrant minors recently arrived at the U.S. via the southern border, this facility, like other emergency ORR facilities opened in 2021, will be unlicensed by state child welfare agencies. This news comes after the recent wind-down of operations at another influx care facility, ORR’s 500-bed tent camp at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, which was recently transitioned to “inactive status.”

Government Accountability Project represents several federal employees who volunteered at Fort Bliss in 2021 and blew the whistle on shocking conditions they witnessed at the site, such as children crammed by the dozens into enormous tent structures, kept awake at night with loud noises and bright lights, and a lack of basic necessities like medical care and shoes. They also raised concerns about mismanagement by both federal employee and contractor leadership unqualified in childcare, resulting in haphazard operations and case management which needlessly prolonged the detention of many children.

It has since come to light that these operational weaknesses increased the risk of children being released into situations of unlawful child labor. Additional whistleblowers have subsequently reported their experiences of retaliation after raising concerns regarding sponsorship and release protocols internally within HHS. These accounts mirror the experiences of Government Accountability Project clients who similarly disclosed an environment at Fort Bliss that actively deterred workers from raising concerns.

Though an investigation by the HHS Office of Inspector General validated many of our clients’ concerns, including the existence of an environment that chilled whistleblowing at Fort Bliss, oversight efforts to date have continuously neglected to address the systemic problems of unqualified contractors and chaotic mismanagement at ORR’s emergency facilities. Furthermore, while ORR has implemented new whistleblower training, it is unclear what if any measures have been undertaken to address the reported culture of dismissal of whistleblower complaints within HHS.

Government Accountability Project’s Dana Gold, Senior Counsel and attorney for the Fort Bliss whistleblowers, stated,

“While Government Accountability Project welcomes the news that HSS is putting the Fort Bliss facility in inactive status given the concerning disclosures of the many whistleblowers who identified problems at that site, we view the establishment of a new ORR influx care facility with extreme apprehension. ORR has yet to address serious allegations of inept contractors wholly unqualified in childcare earning millions of taxpayer dollars to shoddily manage care for thousands of children in government custody. Not until horrific reports of immigrant children working night shifts cleaning slaughterhouse kill-floors have concerns about systemic weaknesses in ORR’s emergency operations drawn broad oversight attention. As HHS announces the opening of a new emergency site amidst glaring gaps in accountability for the management of its unaccompanied minor program to date, the HHS OIG, Congress, and the Biden administration must do more to ensure that ORR is not only equipped from top to bottom to provide care for children in HHS custody, but that all employees involved in the operation—HHS staff, federal detailees, and contractors—are encouraged rather than chilled from exercising their rights to raise concerns about gross mismanagement, compliance failures and threats to the health or safety of children.”

Contact: Andrew Harman, Communications Director
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (202) 926-3304

Government Accountability Project

Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.