MIGRANT CHILDREN SUFFERING IN SHELTERS WHILE POLITICIANS POINT FINGERS
The Biden administration is holding tens of thousands of asylum-seeking children in an opaque network of some 200 facilities that The Associated Press has learned spans two dozen states and includes five shelters with more than 1,000 children packed inside.
Confidential data obtained by the AP shows the number of migrant children in government custody more than doubled in the past two months, and this week the federal government was housing around 21,000 kids, from toddlers to teens. A facility at Fort Bliss, a U.S. Army post in El Paso, Texas, had more than 4,500 children as of Monday. Attorneys, advocates and mental health experts say that while some shelters are safe and provide adequate care, others are endangering children’s health and safety. . . .
A few of the current practices are the same as those that President Joe Biden and others criticized under the Trump administration, including not vetting some caregivers with full FBI fingerprint background checks. At the same time, court records show the Biden administration is working to settle several multimillion-dollar lawsuits that claim migrant children were abused in shelters under President Donald Trump.
Part of the government’s plan to manage thousands of children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border involves about a dozen unlicensed emergency facilities inside military installations, stadiums and convention centers that skirt state regulations and don’t require traditional legal oversight. . . .
HHS declined to say whether there are any legally enforceable standards for caring for children housed at the emergency sites or how they are being monitored. The Biden administration has allowed very limited access to news media once children are brought into facilities, citing the coronavirus pandemic and privacy restrictions.
“HHS has worked as swiftly as possible to increase bed capacity and to ensure potential sponsors can provide a safe home while the child goes through their immigration proceedings,” HHS spokesman Weber said in a statement. “As soon as wrap around services — on-site primary care, including childhood immunizations and physicals, case management, phone calls to family members, education, recreation etc — become available as a result of additional infrastructure and staff, they are provided as part of the operation.”
Weber confirmed a number of specific shelter populations from the data the AP obtained.
Of particular concern to advocates are mass shelters, with hundreds of beds apiece. These facilities can leave children isolated, less supervised and without basic services. The AP found about half of all migrant children detained in the U.S. are sleeping in shelters with more than 1,000 other children. More than 17,650 are in facilities with 100 or more children. Some shelters and foster programs are small, little more than a house with a handful of kids. A large Houston facility abruptly closed last month after it was revealed that children were being given plastic bags instead of access to restrooms. . . .
Some of the facilities holding children these days are run by contractors already facing lawsuits claiming that children were physically and sexually abused in their shelters under the Trump administration, while others are new companies with little or no experience working with migrant children. Collectively, the emergency facilities can accommodate nearly 18,000 children, according to data the agency provided earlier this month. . . .
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(Excerpt from AP News. Article by Garance Burke. (Photo by Milo Espinoza/Getty Images)
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