Attorneys representing illegal immigrant children being held at emergency intake sites sued the Biden administration on Monday asking a federal judge to order the Department of Justice to comply with the terms of the landmark immigration agreement.
The lawsuit (pdf), filed against Attorney General Merricks Garland, alleges that the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is using unlicensed detention facilities to house migrant minors.
The plaintiffs allege that the children at these so-called emergency intake sites lack recreation and education, live in unsanitary conditions, are served raw or uncooked food and are served by staff untrained in taking care of children.
An HHS spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that any incident at the facilities in question would have led to investigations and disciplinary action. The two emergency intake sites singled out in the complaint provide the services and care that the plaintiffs allege are lacking, the spokesperson added.
“At both sites, children receive educational and recreational activities, such as reading, art, and indoor and outdoor athletics. 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,” the spokesperson said.
The National Center for Youth Law and the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law are representing the children.
“Children have described spending the bulk of the day on or around their cots crammed in massive tents with hundreds of other children, suffering escalating anxiety attacks from the stress of the harsh EIS environment, going weeks without clean clothes or underwear, and spending months without going outside for some fresh air,” Leecia Welch, the senior director of Child Welfare and Legal Advocacy at the National Center for Youth Law, said in a statement.
“While some of the unsafe EIS facilities have been closed, mega tent encampments and mining man campsites like Fort Bliss and Pecos remain open with no end in sight.”
The facilities at Fort Bliss and Pecos are two of the four remaining emergency intake sites (EISs). Lacking the space needed to process a surge of migrant children illegally crossing the border, the Biden administration opened 14 of these sites in March 2021, but the number has dwindled since.
The plaintiffs claim that the substandard conditions violate the terms of the Flores agreement, which they say requires that the government “place children in facilities that are safe and sanitary, appropriate for their age and special needs, and concerned with their particular vulnerability.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the sites have a haphazard case management system, which leads to some children having their cases resolved and being released quickly, while others wait for weeks to speak to a case manager.
“We have increased case management services to unite children safely and expeditiously with family, while we continue to improve and streamline this process. At the EIS at Pecos, children are temporarily housed for an average of 24 days, and at EIS at Ft. Bliss, children are temporarily housed for an average of 14 days,” an HHS spokesperson told The Epoch Times.
The National Center for Youth Law interviewed more than 180 children over the course of the last five months.
“All [I] could think about was getting to my aunt, when they would give me a worker. They called other people giving them a worker but they never called my name. Then I got more desperate,” one child said in a declaration.
“I felt anguished and hopeless. I was held hostage and I couldn’t do anything about it,” another child said.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the ORR, did not respond to a request for comment.