November 28, 2018

Senators Criticize Trump Administration After Report Finds Vulnerabilities at Facility Caring for Children in Health Department’s Custody

Washington Today, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Ranking Member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), responded to a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) that identified significant vulnerabilities at a facility in Tornillo, Texas, tasked with caring for children as part of the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s (ORR) Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program.

The report found the Department waived the requirement the facility conduct required Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) fingerprint and child abuse and neglect background checks for staff working with minors and also the facility failed to hire enough mental health providers to ensure traumatized children in its care received adequate mental health services. The report comes after the Senators, and several of their colleagues, sent a letter to the HHS OIG earlier this year requesting they conduct a comprehensive review of the operations of the UAC program, including the treatment of children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border by the Trump administration’s policy.

“The federal government has an obligation to ensure the safety of unaccompanied children in our care. The OIG report makes clear that the Trump administration is falling far short. It’s particularly troubling that the administration is failing to collect fingerprints of staff for background checks, but is perfectly fine fingerprinting relatives who pick up these children and sharing that information with ICE, knowing full well fewer relatives will show up and children will languish in these facilities. Congress needs to conduct strong oversight to ensure children are treated humanely.” said Senator Feinstein.

“Everything about this cruel policy has been a disaster of President Trump’s own making. There is no reason for the Trump administration to tear children from their parents’ arms, and there is no excuse for the findings in this report—that a facility responsible for children’s wellbeing isn’t making sure its employees pass FBI and other background checks or that it has enough staff to provide traumatized children with critically necessary mental health care,”said Senator Murray. “If a facility can’t meet these basic standards, it shouldn’t be trusted to care for children. The Office of Refugee Resettlement must do better. I’m going to continue holding the Trump administration accountable for the harm it is doing to vulnerable families, and demanding oversight to make sure children like those at the facility in Tornillo don’t fall through the cracks.”

“The Trump administration will stop at nothing to drive its hateful and ineffective anti-immigrant agenda—even if that means putting innocent children in harm’s way. It is absolutely appalling that HHS would choose to actively override necessary background checks for staff at the Tornillo facility. This report is especially outrageous as the administration at the same time doubled down in its use of more stringent background checks to deter family members from taking care of unaccompanied children. Clearly, child safety is of no concern for this administration,” said Senator Wyden. “The Trump administration’s cruelty knows no bounds. It should immediately shut down the facility at Tornillo.”

“The Trump administration’s child separation policy resulted in the Department of Homeland Security forcibly separating nearly 3,000 children from their parents. I met some of these separated children. They were toddlers and infants, little babies taken from their mothers. And now we are learning, as part of the HHS OIG investigation that I requested with Senators Murray, Feinstein, and Wyden that a facility in Tornillo, Texas, that was holding these kids failed to conduct the required FBI background checks for staff and was not employing enough clinicians to provide mental health care for the children—children who have been victims of trauma. The cruelty of this ill-conceived, heartless, and poorly implemented policy seems to be never-ending. The Republicans who control Congress have failed to conduct the most basic oversight to prevent these abuses and hold this Administration accountable,” said Senator Durbin.

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