Scrutiny of HHS Grows as Migrant Children Moved to Tent Cities

Oct 15, 2018
6:18 PM

People protest at the Tornillo-Guadalupe port of entry gate on June 24, 2018 in Tornillo, Texas. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

On Monday, Latino Rebels received the following media release from Equity Forward:

As concern mounts over the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) lack of transparency at sites housing children and its false claim that a “central database” existed to track children separated from their families, Equity Forward continues to call for Congress to hold HHS Chief Alex Azar accountable.

Today, multiple news stories are raising alarm bells about the conditions and lack of oversight at an HHS-run “tent city” on the Texas border where the exploding population recently quadrupled in size. Moreover, conditions at the tent city —which provides no schooling and limited access to legal services— stand in stark contrast to reassurances from HHS Chief Azar, who has said migrant children in custody have been treated well and are being provided with an education. In fact, Azar once claimed HHS was performing “one of the great acts of American generosity and charity” in its care of these children.

Additionally, HHS’ tent city does not have to adhere to government regulations that other HHS-contracted youth shelters must follow, such as adult to child supervision ratios, emergency care, or other oversight standards. HHS-contracted shelters in other states have been forced to close due to abuse of children, which was only discovered due to state inspections. Tent cities on federal lands do not need to submit to state inspection or oversight, leaving the children with no state agency to oversee their well-being.

Today’s reporting come on the heels of a Washington Post piece that confirmed HHS lied to the public when it claimed it had  a “central database” with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to share information about children ripped from their parents during the family separation crisis. Specifically, in a June press release as outrage about the cruel policy was reaching its peak, HHS proudly cited the joint database as evidence that the crisis was under control. The release clearly stated, “there is a central database which HHS and DHS can access and update when a parent(s) or minor(s) location information changes.”

Yet DHS’ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) could find no evidence of such a database, noting “DHS has since acknowledged to the OIG that there is no ‘direct electronic interface’ between DHS and HHS tracking systems.” Notably, three days after the press release was issued touting the non-existent database, Azar boasted in front of a Senate committee that he could find every child in custody “within seconds.”

“Equity Forward has serious doubts that HHS can serve as its own check and balance in the care of migrant children detained in a tent city, given that the agency is  already comfortable playing fast and loose with the truth,” said Mary Alice Carter, Executive Director of Equity Forward. “Secretary Azar must be held accountable not only for his role in the family separation crisis, but also for the conditions at HHS facilities.”