In May 2022, the Women’s Refugee Commission and First Focus on Children led a delegation of 11 advocacy organizations to the Emergency Admission Site (EIS) facilities for unaccompanied children in Pecos, Texas, and at Fort Bliss, near El Paso, Texas. The attorneys also visited the Pecos EIS and Ft. Bliss EIS facilities in May 2021.
EIS facilities were created by the Biden administration in early 2021 to quickly move unaccompanied children out of U.S. Border Patrol custody, which is not appropriate for their care. EIS facilities, operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), do not have the legally required state child care licenses for permanent facilities for unaccompanied children. As a result, they are usually large, institutionalized establishments with no mandatory state or federal oversight or oversight. As of June 6, 2022, the Biden administration reports that the Pecos and Fort. Bliss facilities have been converted to Influx Care Facilities (ICF), a separate legal category with higher standards for child safety, education and therapeutic services than EIS facilities, but still lower than those licensed care providers.
Our findings: While both sites have improved significantly since May 2021, we remain concerned about the sites’ ability to meet the needs of children. The Pecos and Fort. The Bliss facilities were developed at a time of dire need and provided limited therapeutic and educational services. Life for unaccompanied children at Pecos and Ft. Bliss is highly regulated, which—because adolescents have strong developmental needs for increased privacy and personal autonomy—makes the sites ill-suited for the children housed there. Currently, ORR refers children with more difficult cases to other facilities, and Pecos and Ft. Bliss are able to reunite children with sponsors faster than licensed facilities and faster than all reunifications in 2019, which is the last time the system experienced similar pressure. Despite the improvements, we continue to have significant concerns about the suitability of these facilities for any child, and point out that care practices at the facilities would be particularly unacceptable if reunification times fell to 2019 rates.
Notable improvements from our May 2021 tours
Quick family reunion. EIS facilities at Pecos and Fort. Bliss reunites unaccompanied children with family members faster than a year ago, when long stays were all too common. Case management has improved significantly and reunification metrics (eg discharge rates and average length of stay) were strong at the time of our visit. However, case management issues remain, as licensed providers who receive transferred children report uneven quality in assessments of children’s needs in Pecos and Fort. Bliss, progress in sponsor verification, communications with parents in the country of origin and assessments of each child’s specific vulnerability to abuse, exploitation and trafficking.
Compliance with Prevention of Sexual Abuse (PSA) standards. During the 2021 visit, advocates noted that even basic procedures for PSA compliance were lacking at both sites, such as emergency hotline lines, boxes for reporting confidentiality and posters informing children of their rights. During our 2022 visit, posters informing children of their rights were visible in the main common areas and dormitories, as were PSA phones and grievance boxes.
Physical facilities and hygiene at Fort. Happiness. During the 2021 visit, advocates noted overcrowded dormitory tents, deficient showers for the size of the child population, insufficient change of clothes to keep children clean in an area plagued by dust and dust storms are abundant, and insufficient opportunities for washing and laundering clothes. personal hygiene. During the 2022 visit, we observed that the children had regular access to showers, several changes of clothes and that laundry was done at regular intervals. However, we attribute a large proportion of the visible improvements to the lower number of children at Fort. Happiness.