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New Allegations of Abuse at Ft. Bliss Emergency Intake Site Surface

The Women’s Refugee Commission Calls on Biden Administration to Close Ft. Bliss and Phase Out All Other EIS Sites

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Government Accountability Project (GAP) today released a second set of whistleblower allegations of the abuse of unaccompanied children currently being held at the Ft. Bliss emergency intake site (EIS).

Earlier this month, GAP released whistleblower accounts by federal detailees assigned to the Ft. Bliss EIS noting serious concerns about poor treatment, unhygienic and overcrowded living conditions, inadequate medical attention, prolonged stays for children, and inexperienced staff.

Today’s report reaffirms those concerns and also provides in-depth accounts of mismanagement and misallocation of resources to the detriment of the children and staff’s safety and well-being.

“As with the disclosure from earlier this month, we are grateful that these federal employees came forward to report their concerns for the welfare and safety of children at the Ft. Bliss EIS, and we urge Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Inspector General to immediately and thoroughly investigate these alarming reports,” said Leah Chavla, senior policy advisor at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC).

Some of the most serious allegations in the report include the following:

  • Three major contractors providing on-site staffing services — Servpro, Chenega, and Rapid Deployment, Inc. — lacked childcare experience, including staffing assigned to direct childcare duties. Some contractor employees told federal detailees that they only had to submit basic employment applications and were not subject to any other vetting, phone calls, or even interviews before being offered their jobs. One detailee learned that only in the last week of May were Chenega and Servpro staff undergoing background checks en masse, after they started to work around children. Such nonexistent vetting is unheard of and unacceptable in the realm of child welfare and is an issue that has surfaced previously, in 2018, in a case in which staff had not received required Federal Bureau of Investigation fingerprint checks prior to starting work on-site at a different emergency influx facility.
  • By mid-May of 2021, nearly 800 federal employees were detailed to the Ft. Bliss EIS. According to the whistleblowers, there was “virtually no effort to assign these detailees based on their skills and experience.” One jarring example of this: the EIS Clinical Assessment Team (CAT) working directly with children to assess their history of abuse, emotional and mental health, and exposure to sex or labor trafficking. The CAT interviewed and assessed more than 5,000 children and only afterwards did management decide that “most of the team members — including the CAT director — were not qualified to do clinical assessment and needed to be re-assigned.”
  • Federal detailees attempted to report construction workers’ sexual harassment of girls housed at Ft. Bliss and were met with resistance from federal managers at the site.

“These accounts are horrifying and entirely unacceptable,” said Chavla. “WRC renews its call to HHS and the Biden administration to immediately close the Ft. Bliss EIS and, in short order, all other remaining EIS. There is no question that this is possible, as other EIS have been appropriately closed. The Biden administration must ensure that children are never held in these types of inappropriate conditions again, and must fully cooperate with any investigation into the matter to make sure that there is transparency, accountability, and that needed reforms are identified, developed, and implemented. It’s inexcusable, and this administration can — and must — do better.”