Whistleblowers Say Contractors Not Trained to Care for Migrant Children in Fort Bliss Detention Camp

Jul 8, 2021
2:10 PM

(AP Photo/Juan Carlos Llorca, File)

Unaccompanied minors detained at the Fort Bliss Emergency Intake Site, one of the largest detention camps in the country, are being supervised by a company that has no experience in child care, according to two temporary federal workers who were at the site.

This was revealed in a July 7 Government Accountability Project report based on accounts from Laurie Elkin and Justin Mulaire, who monitored the Fort Bliss site from May 12 through June 2. Both Elkin and Mulaire worked in this facility as part of a temporary assignment with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Sevrpro, the company that is in charge of the children who stay in this facility, is a fire and water damage repair company that has no previous experience with child care.

The report said that the camp is inadequately equipped and overcrowded. More than 1,000 children slept in an undivided space with beds only 18 inches apart. This makes it very difficult to monitor and care for emergencies, according to the two whistleblowers.

“Because each tent contained such a large number of closely spaced bunk beds, line-of-sight supervision was impossible for a substantial number of children. That failure, combined with the vast size of the tents, put at-risk children at even greater risk. A child in distress risked being overlooked by adults, especially if hidden from view on a lower bunk,” the report noted.

Elkin and Mulaire observed children who reported medical problems, “ranging from unexplained pain to profuse bleeding.” They also witnessed cases where children were anxious and wanted to talk to a counselor.

“These were not children who were likely to get up out of bed and seek assistance from an adult,” the report said.

The two whistleblowers said there was no communication between managers and children, even for weeks, which caused additional trauma. One of the reasons is that the caregivers did not speak Spanish fluently.

They also detailed that the children were not provided with clean bedding and clothes even though several of them were in detention for two months or more.

In May, a Servpro spokesperson said the parent company was not aware that a company franchise from outside El Paso had taken over youth care services.

Several organizations have reacted to the report, calling on President Biden and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to end “put an end to this cruelty.”

“At stake is how a nation treats children after years of Trump’s cruelty. We need to treat children with compassion and dignity,” the organization said.

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) issued a statement on Thursday, calling for “the immediate removal of the minors being detained in these abhorrent conditions.”

“They must be reunited with their families or loved ones in the United States rather than continue to suffer inhumane mistreatment. LULAC supports the call for a full and open investigation into this intolerable situation including access by humanitarian organizations to the minors housed at the [Fort Bliss Emergency Intake Site]. We urge the Administration to bring in qualified professionals to assess what medical and psychological care these youths need. This must be a priority that is addressed now,” LULAC national president Domingo Garcia said.

The report comes two weeks after Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to the border and continued criticism of the Biden administration’s actions regarding the treatment of immigrants in detention.

As of July 7, 966 migrant children are being held by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and 14,852 are being held by HHS.

The Government Accountability Project filed the whistleblower report to Congress, urging it to take action immediately.