After raising concerns last year about the mistreatment of unaccompanied migrant children on a Texas military base, US government workers aiding migrant children are now fearing retaliation, a watchdog report released on Tuesday shows.
The alleged retaliation acts – including demotion and removal from assignments- according to the inspector general’s office, may have caused a broader whistleblower chilling, forcing staff into withholding any complaints or reports of wrongdoing.
Among the whistleblowers cited in the report is a staff member working with the leadership of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which oversees unaccompanied minors’ care and custody.
The unnamed staffer was allegedly demoted and transferred after he raised concerns about the treatment of children at the Fort Bliss base – where they have been held amid record arrivals at the US-Mexico border – and have alarmed about the removal of certain safety checks while releasing children to sponsors.
According to child testimonials filed in court in June 2021, migrant children sent to Fort Bliss and other emergency shelters also complained of crowded living conditions, spoiled food, lack of clean clothes, and struggles with depression.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an HHS official claimed that they’d never retaliate against someone for raising a child welfare concern, explaining that HHS may have faced challenges during the spring of 2021’s emergency situation.
The official, however, claims that conditions at Fort Bliss, where there are currently 589 children, are now incomparably better. Children stay, on average, for 13 days in the base before being released to parents or other sponsors.
Faced with overcrowding in border stations due to the steep increase in the number of children caught crossing the border with Mexico in 2021, HHS housed the unaccompanied children in several emergency shelters it opened.
Children are staying there until they could be placed with sponsors in the US.