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Emergency Migrant Camp Stops Taking Children Just Days After Opening Amid Safety Concerns

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The U.S. government has stopped taking immigrant teenagers to a converted camp for oilfield workers in West Texas as it faces questions about the safety of emergency sites it is quickly setting up to hold children pouring across the southern border.

The converted camp has faced multiple issues in the four days since the Biden administration opened it up amid a scramble to find space for immigrant children.

More than 10 percent of the camp’s population has tested positive for COVID-19 and at least one child had to be hospitalized.

An official working at the Midland, Texas, site said most of the Red Cross volunteers staffing the site don’t speak Spanish, even though the teenagers they care for are overwhelmingly from Central America.

When the facility opened, there weren’t enough new clothes to give to teenagers, the official said.

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There were also no case managers on site to begin processing the minors’ release to family members elsewhere in the U.S.

Bringing in teenagers while still setting up basic services “was kind of like building a plane as it’s taking off,” according to the official, who declined to be named due to government restrictions.

U.S. Health and Human Services notified local officials in Midland late Wednesday night that it had no plans to bring more teenagers to the site, according to an email seen by The Associated Press. HHS spokesman Mark Weber said taking more teenagers to Midland was on “pause for now.”

There were still 485 youths on site as of Wednesday, 53 of whom had tested positive for COVID-19.

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The government on Wednesday brought around 200 teenagers to another emergency site at a downtown Dallas convention center, which could expand up to 3,000 minors.

President Joe Biden’s administration has been sharply criticized for its response to a surge in crossings of unaccompanied migrant children.

As thousands of children wait in Border Patrol facilities unequipped for long-term detention, with some sleeping on floors, HHS has rushed to open holding sites across the country and tried to expedite its processes for releasing children in custody.

In addition, the U.S. has seen a sharp increase in Central American families arriving at the border. Families with young children are generally allowed to enter through South Texas.

The Biden administration is not expelling immigrant children unaccompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Several hundred a day are crossing the border, going first to often packed Border Patrol stations while they await placement in the HHS system.

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HHS has turned to the American Red Cross to care for teenagers in both Midland and Dallas, a departure from the standard practice of having paid, trained staff watch over youths. Staff from HHS and the U.S. Public Health Service are also at both sites.

Neither HHS nor the Red Cross would say whether the volunteers had to pass FBI fingerprint checks, which are more exhaustive than a commercial background check. Both agencies have declined repeated requests for interviews.

The waiver of those background checks at another HHS camp in Tornillo, Texas, in 2018 led to concerns that the government was endangering child welfare.

HHS requires caregivers in its permanent facilities to pass an FBI fingerprint check, and the agency’s inspector general found in 2018 that waiving background checks combined with not having enough mental health clinicians were “serious safety and health vulnerabilities.”

In a statement earlier this week, HHS said it was rushing to get children out of Border Patrol custody and that emergency sites “will provide a safer and less over-crowded environment where children are cared for and processed as quickly as possible.”

The Red Cross says its volunteers in Midland and Dallas “have received intensive training in sheltering operations and COVID-19 safety” and that they had all undergone background checks. The agency declined to say how many hours of training each volunteer had received.

U.S. Rep. August Pfluger, a Republican who represents Midland, was allowed to visit the site soon after it opened and saw the portable units that serve as rooms for each teenager. “It’s a professional facility that was intended for workers,” he said.

But Pfluger and other Midland officials said the Biden administration wasn’t answering their questions or giving them assurance that officials would keep the surrounding community safe.

HHS opened the Midland site without notifying some top local officials who say many of their questions aren’t being answered.

The email HHS sent to local officials this week details the haste with which government officials opened the site.

It says officials identified the camp on Friday and signed a contract on Saturday. The first group of teenagers arrived Sunday night.

“People don’t trust what they’re doing. They don’t feel secure,” Pfluger said. “The lack of transparency only serves to magnify that problem.”

The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.

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