The federal government owns a detention center for children in Tornillo, Texas, an El Paso-area border village of some 1,600 people. Coincidentally, the Tornillo Influx Care Facility also houses about 1,600 minors, though there are plans to increase the capacity to 3,800 beds.
Unfortunately for the migrant children detained there, BCFS Health and Human Services, the Texas nonprofit agency the government's Office of Refugee Resettlement hired to operate the center, failed to conduct sufficient background checks on 1,300 employees hired to care for the children, including whether staff members have a history of child abuse or neglect.
News of the failure to properly vet workers is included in a special report by the federal Health and Human Services inspector general, which also faulted the agency for hiring too few clinicians to provide mental health support for children who suffered a range of traumas before arriving at the center.
That failure to hire a sufficient number of clinicians will likely become more problematic as the center's capacity expands, and as the average length of stay for the children has increased from 20 days to 27 days.
"It is imperative that (the refugee resettlement office) take steps to ensure that Tornillo adheres to comparable program requirements to keep (unaccompanied minors) safe and provide access to the mental health care they may need," the report said.
Rather than submitting the new hires to FBI fingerprint checks, shelter officials used a private contractor that conducted less comprehensive background searches. The center also waived the child abuse/neglect checks, presuming that those records would turn up in the fingerprint checks — which weren't done.
Slight good news: The report says the Office of Refugee Resettlement is working with Tornillo administrators to address the background check problem.
That leaves the paucity of clinicians. Because Tornillo is considered a facility for children who will be present only temporarily as the government finds longer-term placements for them, the policy allows for one clinician for every 100 children to attend to emergency mental health issues. By contrast, a permanent facility must have one clinician for every 12 children.
The inspector general recommended that the government staff Tornillo as it would a permanent facility. It pointed out that a similar "flux" facility in Homestead, Fla., must adhere to the smaller ratio.
Part of the problem is the government's decision to treat Tornillo, a pop-up tent village that opened in June, as a temporary way station for children. But that doesn't absolve the government of ensuring that it is not placing the minors at risk.
Unfortunately, the government's failure to properly handle the migrants it insists on detaining is becoming a norm rather than an exception. And that is unacceptable.