Aug 10, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Lawsuit: Migrant teens in U.S. custody face "deplorable conditions" at Texas sites

The entrance of Fort Bliss army base.
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Lawyers of migrant children held in U.S. custody asked a federal court on Monday for the release of teenagers from two emergency housing sites in Texas, arguing that their conditions violate standards for government facilities that house migrants.

Why it matters: Teens at the facilities have reported "deplorable conditions" and said they've suffered from mental health problems and prolonged stays at the facilities, according to the complaint, which contains testimony from more than a dozen children.

Catch up fast: Government watchdogs launched a probe into one of the facilities after a whistleblower complaint last month corroborated reports of trauma among children because of overcrowding and lack of access to mental health services.

  • Authorities there have regularly supervised children under their care for panic attacks, escape attempts and self-harm, CBS News reported in June.
  • Two brothers said they were held at the other facility for 65 days despite having a relative in Houston who was willing to care for them. Others reported a lack of educational and recreational services and alleged that they were served undercooked food during their stay.

The big picture: President Biden has faced criticism for his response to the record surge in unaccompanied children crossing the southern border.

  • The facilities in question — one in Fort Bliss Army base and the other at a camp for oil workers in Pecos, established by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — house 1,800 and 800 unaccompanied children, respectively, per documents obtained by CBS News, which first reported the lawsuit.
  • The lawsuit calls for expedited release of children who are being held at the makeshift sites and for the government to establish higher standards for such emergency facilities.

What they're saying: The HHS said in an emailed statement to Axios that while it couldn't speak to the specifics of the court filing, the department takes its responsibility to provide safe, appropriate care for unaccompanied migrant children very seriously.

  • "Any potential incident previously reported would have led to an investigation and disciplinary action as warranted. At both sites, children receive educational and recreational activities, such as reading, art, and indoor and outdoor athletics," the statement continued. 
  • "Children at both sites have access to medical treatment, laundry service, they can call their family, they meet weekly with case managers, can access legal services and meet with mental and behavioral health counselors. We have increased case management services to unite children safely and expeditiously with family, while we continue to improve and streamline this process."
  • The statement added that children are temporarily housed at the Pecos and Ft. Bliss facilities for an average of 24 and 14 days, respectively.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from the HHS.

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