President Joe Biden’s policies and rhetoric seem to have invited a massive influx of migrants to America’s southern border — and a substantial number of those migrants are unaccompanied children, who the government is now housing in makeshift temporary shelters known as Emergency Intake Sites, or EISs.
According to a newly filed federal lawsuit, however, the EISs lack any real oversight — and the migrant children being housed there, the suit claims, are living in nothing short of abusive conditions.
The lawsuit, filed by the National Center for Youth Law (NCYL) along with the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law (CHRCL), names Attorney General Merrick Garland as a defendant along with the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which is tasked with overseeing the housing and care of detained migrant children.
The suit aims to force Garland’s Justice Department to immediately and fully enforce the provisions of the 1997 Flores Agreement Settlement, which set minimum standards of care and limits on the duration of detention for migrant children held in federal custody.
Allegations of abuse and systemic failures
In a 276-page filing, the plaintiffs in the suit took particular aim at two EIS facilities in Texas, one at Ft. Bliss and the other near Pecos, labeling them the worst in terms of lack of care and alleged child abuse — though other EIS facilities seemed to hardly be faring any better.
The suit relied in part on evidence uncovered by the Government Accountability Project and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), both of which had documented the alleged abuses.
Among the many detailed complaints are claims that the facilities themselves are unsafe and inappropriate for children, that children aren’t being provided adequate education, properly cooked food, health care, or privacy, and that they’re being forced to stay in unsanitary conditions.
“One horror story after the next”
The suit also alleged that employees at EISs are not properly trained to deal with children, that the children aren’t being assigned to caseworkers in a timely fashion, that hundreds of children are being held for weeks or even months on end, and that the facilities themselves are not required to meet even the basic standards of care that apply to other federal intake and detention facilities operated by ORR.
“For months, the children we have met with at the EISs have shared one horror story after the next,” Leecia Welch, a top official with NCYL, said in a statement.
“Children have described spending the bulk of the day on or around their cots crammed in massive tents with hundreds of other children, suffering escalating anxiety attacks from the stress of the harsh EIS environment, going weeks without clean clothes or underwear, and spending months without going outside for some fresh air,” Welch added.
Welch said there’s “no excuse” for the ongoing failure to hold government officials and contractors accountable for the situation at the border.
“While we understand the magnitude of the challenge facing the administration, there is no excuse for failing to hold government contractors accountable for complying with basic child welfare standards and allowing children to remain in unsafe conditions for months on end,” she said. “We hope our motion results in more children being quickly released to their families and fewer children suffering at places like Fort Bliss and Pecos.”