The Administration announced last week that it is closing the emergency tent camp for migrant children in Tornillo, Texas. In November, the Inspector General for HHS released an inspection report to Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson that criticized conditions and practices at a Texas facility for unaccompanied children. The facility in Tornillo, Texas was one of the first targets of the IG.
Tornillo initially opened in June with 30 days’ funding and swelled over the next seven months into a massive 120-tent camp with room for 3,800 people. Those number have been reduced especially after the November report. According to HHS the majority of the 850 children still at the desert facility as of last week will be released to a parent or sponsor or relocated to other shelters this month. Three weeks ago, the camp held 2,800 teens.
In the original IG report, HHS was criticized because the Tornillo facility was not conducting required Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fingerprint background checks for staff working at Tornillo. In addition, they were not conducting required child abuse and neglect registry checks because that requirement has been waived by the ORR. Instead they are using background checks conducted by a private contractor that has access to less comprehensive data than what the FBI provides. The inspection also found that Tornillo does not employ enough staff clinicians to provide adequate mental health care.
Tornillo is located at the Customs and Border Protection’s Texas Land Port of Entry (LPOE). It was opened in June 2018 for a one-month period, but its life was extended. It is not licensed to operate by Texas and not subject to state and local licensing standards because it is on Federal property and because of its temporary and emergency nature. To provide for the basic needs of unaccompanied minors, Tornillo uses soft-sided structures and portable sanitation, restroom, and laundry facilities.
The IG said, “It is unclear how clinician staff at Tornillo could properly assess and respond to the UAC’s mental health needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, given the current and budgeted staffing ratios, particularly for a population believed to have experienced significant trauma…