Documents and secret recordings revealed employees at a large child migrant facility admitted to the "filthy" conditions and lack of basic necessities for the migrant children detained there.
"If you took a poll, probably about 98% of the federal workers here would say it's appalling," a federal employee assigned to the facility told Reason. "Everybody tries in their own way to quietly disobey and get things done, but it can be difficult."
Over 4,500 migrant children and teenagers are being held at Fort Bliss, a Texas military base hosting migrant children in large tents that lack basic necessities for the children there, according to the report.
The shelter, which largely houses teenage boys, is supposed to be a temporary holding facility while the migrants wait to be reunited with family members or other contacts in the United States. But many of the teenagers have been stuck at the facility for a month or more as the government battles to staff the facility with enough people to care for the migrants.
The Fort Bliss facility is just one of an "opaque network of some 200 facilities" hosting "tens of thousands of asylum-seeking children" created by the Biden administration to house children after they are released from Customs and Border Protection detention centers.
About 750 federal employees and contractors work at the facility, with one federal employee telling Reason that staff members there act as "babysitters and clerks" at the sprawling tent camp.
Employees said basic equipment, such as lice kits, is in short supply, while secret recordings revealed trainers for the workers acknowledged how stressed the facility is.
"I'm not going to lie, we've got people dropping like flies because it's just not something that they're used to," a trainer said in the recording. "This facility is growing so fast, and we are getting kids on a daily basis. We don't have enough staff to maintain."
The trainer also discussed the dirty conditions inside the tents, which house up to 1,000 migrant teenagers.
"I've been into one dorm, one time, and I was like, 'Yeah, I'm not going back there,'" the trainer said. "They're filthy. They're dirty. There's food on the floor. There's wet spots all over the place. The beds are dirty. I don't know what's going on or who's responsible for ensuring that the dorms need to be clean, but we all need to be responsible for telling the minors to clean up after themselves."
The trainer also admitted that staff members have been caught having inappropriate contact with some of the minors.
"We have already caught staff with minors inappropriately," the trainer said. "Is that OK with you guys? I hope not. We have also caught minors with minors, which is, you know — we've got teenagers in this shelter. What's happening with teenagers? Hormones, raging out of control. It's important that we maintain safety and vigilance. Be vigilant. Stop what is happening. If you don't watch these kids, and you're not the one who is going to step in, who's going to? Be that person to stand up for the minors because that's what we're here for."
"Some of the incidents and complaints we're getting also is that we've got minors who are requesting medical due to not feeling well, and staff members are telling them, 'There's nothing wrong with you, go back to your bed,'" the trainer said. "These are legitimate complaints, and it is my duty to let you know what is going on, because if you know who these people are, you need to report them."
Another recording of a town-hall-style meeting led by Dr. Joseph Hutter, a commander in the U.S. Public Health Service, also detailed more incidents of minors being denied medical care.
"One of our volunteers was working with a child who was coughing up blood," a staffer told Hutter. "She went to her tent and said we need to deal with this, and they said, 'Well, we're going to send them to lunch or dinner.' Then, they checked with medical, and they said it was a three-and-a-half-hour wait to see anybody."
"No one else says 'no,'" Hutter responded. "No one else says, 'After lunch.' You let the tent nurse know. Nobody slows down or denies medical care, and if the medical tent is backed up, they can call on reserves. That shouldn't happen."
Employees also detailed how the facility is failing to provide basics such as a change of clothes and underwear.
"Many of the boys and girls have not been given underwear, particularly ones who've been in COVID isolation," a federal employee said. "After they come out, they're issued new clothes, but no underwear. And very often, it's only one set of clothes, so no clothes to change into and no underwear. When we have asked about it — and I personally escorted some kids to tents to ask how come they can't get underwear — the answer is, well, the contractor is supposed to provide that."
The lack of accountability didn't sit well with one federal worker.
"There is no underwear shortage here in El Paso," the employee said. "I've checked at Walmart and Target. Anybody with a credit card could go and get all of this. And the answer is, everything is being monitored because we don't want there to be waste. The irony is just so rich. With the salaries they're paying us, and rental cars, hotels, per diems, and 72 hours a week — it's just mind-boggling."
Despite the situation at the facility, the New York Times reported that the Biden administration plans to expand it to host 10,000 children, more than doubling its current size. The shelter is also not open to the public or press due to its location on a military base, with one federal employee saying that leaders at the camp stress its secrecy to employees.
"Secrecy is demanded at a level that might be called for if we were designing the next generation of nuclear subs, and there is absolutely no reason for it," a federal employee said. "One can understand the need to protect the identities of individual children and not allow them to be photographed. But there is no excuse for any of the other secrecy surrounding the operation."