April 5, 2022

Government Accountability Project Raises Ongoing Concerns about Treatment of Unaccompanied Immigrant Children at HHS Emergency Intake Sites

In the Face of Increasing Numbers in HHS Custody, Past Whistleblower Disclosures Remain Unanswered

WASHINGTON—Today, Government Accountability Project called on Congress and federal oversight agencies to investigate and assess whether the horrific conditions at the Fort Bliss Emergency Intake Site (EIS) and other EISs for unaccompanied migrant children reported by multiple whistleblowers last summer have been addressed and remedied.

To date, three whistleblower disclosures have been filed and publicly released. They reveal gross mismanagement, chaos and negligent conditions harmful to the health and safety of children at the Fort Bliss EIS and other EISs run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through its Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Today’s letter provides a recap of those concerns, details concerning trends showing the likely substantial increase of children in HHS custody and includes an additional whistleblower disclosure from Kaitlin Hess, a career federal civil servant. Ms. Hess volunteered at Fort Bliss from May through June last year. Her disclosure reveals:

  • Faulty case management software, which resulted in 700 “lost” children waiting for unknown lengths of time without having ever seen a case manager to facilitate their reunification with family;
  • Egregious errors in discharge procedures—some children were listed as having been discharged but were still in HHS custody at the site. In a separate instance, 100 children waited in one place for discharge for twelve hours, and at least one child soiled himself during the wait;
  • Case management errors that resulted in at least one instance of near family separation, with one minor family member being discharged while another was forced to remain;
  • Alarming incompetence of contractors who could not complete basic duties without support from federal detailees. Indeed, when a federal manager pulled detailees from completing transport manifests, contractors could complete no manifests; and
  • Safety hazards including children wearing sandals near heavy machinery in a construction zone.

Government Accountability Project’s letter notes that HHS has provided no response indicating meaningful improvement of conditions at the EISs. It states:

It is not clear to us if HHS and ORR have learned much if anything from the last year’s debacles. We urge you to investigate further and assess whether there has been meaningful progress. The welfare of thousands of children continues to be at stake.

Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel Dana Gold noted:

“Last year children were lost in faulty case management systems, contractors who had no experience working with children managed the operation, and children were warehoused for months in giant tents without their basic needs met. It is imperative to know that children in the government’s care this year will be protected rather than subjected to neglect and harm as our clients disclosed last year.”

Government Accountability Project’s newest complaint can be found here.

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.