The Slatest

Report: Government Waived Background Check Requirements for Staff at Largest Detention Center for Migrant Children

Protesters hold signs saying, "We really care, do u?" and "No human being is illegal." One protester waves an American flag.
Protesters gather near the tent encampment built at the Tornillo-Guadalupe Port of Entry on June 24, 2018 in Tornillo, Texas.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A government watchdog found that the Trump administration has dropped background check requirements for staff working at the nation’s largest detention camp for migrant children, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The reason for the lapse in security, the AP reported, is the camp’s nearly out-of-control growth and soaring costs. In June, the government opened a temporary shelter for migrant children in Tornillo, Texas, with the intention of housing just a few hundred children, most of whom arrived at the border by themselves with hopes of meeting up with family members living in the U.S. But the tent city exploded in size, and soon thousands of children were sent to stay.

According to the AP, the former director of the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement approved the decision to waive checks for child abuse and neglect for the more than 2,000 staff members brought on since the facility opened. The office reportedly had assumed staff members had undergone FBI fingerprint checks, but they had not. The AP reported that recently hired employees are still not receiving background checks.

Instead of vigorous FBI checks, the faith-based private contractor that was hired to run the facility has run its own checks, including running an employee’s name against multi-state sex offender registries and other criminal databases. With access to less data and less reliable information, the contractor’s less stringent checks are thought to increase the likelihood of someone with a criminal or abusive background taking care of migrant teenagers.

More than 2,300 children between the age of 13 and 17 are still housed in the tent city, watched over by staff members who have not undergone proper background checks. If children from the migrant caravans are detained in the U.S., many of them will likely be sent to the Tornillo facility.

On top of the background checks, the AP investigation also found that the facility was allowed to skirt its mental health requirements for taking care of teenagers. Normally, under federal rules, the shelters would have one mental health clinician for every 12 children. The Tornillo camp has one for every 100 children. Many detained teenage migrants have reported experiencing forms of trauma and other mental health issues during and after their time under the administration’s care.

The Trump administration has said it plans to close the Tornillo facility by the end of the year, but the AP reported that the goal appears impossible at this point and that a contract for the facility indicates it could continue into 2020. Hundreds are expected to remain in the facility for the holidays while they wait to be united with family members or other sponsors. Because the administration has strengthened the background check requirements for sponsors agreeing to take the migrants (and because many of the sponsors are undocumented and fear being deported), some children are expecting to wait a long time.