The US waives FBI controls of caregivers in new services for migrants – WSVN 7News | Miami Information, Climate, Sports activities
HOUSTON (AP) – The Biden government is not requiring FBI fingerprint verification from caregivers in their fast-growing network of emergency locations to accommodate thousands of immigrant teenagers. This alarms child welfare experts who say not doing it is a safety risk.
In a rush to get children out of crowded and often unsuitable border guards, President Joe Biden’s team turns to a measure used by previous administrations: tent camps, convention centers, and other huge facilities run by private contractors and operated by US Health and Services are financed humanly. In March alone, the Biden government announced it would open eight new 911 points in the southwest and add 15,000 new beds, more than doubling the size of their existing system.
These emergency services do not need to be licensed by government agencies or provide the same services as permanent HHS facilities. They also cost a lot more, an estimated $ 775 per child per day.
In order to quickly occupy the locations, the Biden administration has dispensed with verification procedures in order to protect minors from possible harm.
Staff and volunteers directly caring for children in new emergency locations don’t have to undergo FBI fingerprint checks using criminal databases that are inaccessible to the public and can get past someone who changes their name or uses a false identity.
HHS issued a statement Friday stating that direct caregivers and volunteers must “pass the criminal background review.” Reviewing public records generally takes less time, but it depends on the subject providing the correct information.
The agency says those providing direct care will be supervised by federal employees or anyone else who has passed fingerprint-based background checks. “At the emergency room locations, HHS implements the standards for childcare in emergencies,” the agency said.
For months during former President Donald Trump’s tenure, HHS failed to ensure that FBI fingerprint checks or child screening were carried out at a large camp in Tornillo, Texas. An Associated Press investigation in 2018 also found that workers at another camp in Homestead, Florida, were not given routine checkups to rule out allegations of child abuse or neglect.
The HHS inspector general warned that FBI fingerprint checks “offer unique protection” against most commercial background checks that search for a person’s name.
“While the various background checks were able to identify some previous criminal convictions or sexual offenses, those checks weren’t as extensive as the FBI fingerprint background checks,” noted the Inspector General.
Laura Nodolf, the district attorney in Midland, Texas, where HHS opened an emergency room this month, said that without fingerprint verification, “we really don’t know who the person who is directing care is.”
“This may put the children cared for by HHS on the path of sex offenders,” said Nodolf. “You enable these children to become potential victims.”
Dr. Amy Cohen, a child psychiatrist who is the executive director of Immigration Service Every Last One, noted that HHS requires fingerprint checks from relatives who want to admit children as part of a screening process that takes an average of more than 30 days.
“If the fingerprints of frontline facility workers are not verified, migrant children at risk are at significant risk of physical and sexual abuse,” she said.
The Biden government has 18,000 children and youth in custody, a number that has increased almost daily in recent weeks. While Biden continues to evict most adults and many families crossing the border, he has refused to resume deportation of unaccompanied immigrant children, which was suspended last year after a now-remaining federal court order.
More than 5,000 young people are in custody, many of them in a tent complex in South Texas with limited space, food and access to nature. But Border Patrol arrests hundreds more minors than HHS publishes every day – up from 325 on Thursday only.
At the downtown Dallas Convention Center, one of HHS ’emergency locations, nearly all 2,300 beds were filled just a week after it opened this month.
Child advocates say the administration needs to speed up opening of children with godparents rather than opening more unlicensed emergency facilities, especially the 40% or so of teenagers in custody who have a parent in the country willing to take them in.
HHS has been trying in the past few weeks to speed up processing of minors by allowing some teenagers to stay with their parents while fingerprint verification is pending, and has approved the use of government funds to pay the fare when a child is released.
Ana, the mother of a 17-year-old teenager incarcerated in Dallas, told AP that her son fled gangs to recruit him in El Salvador and hoped to join her in Virginia. After an eight-day trip, the teenager crossed the U.S.-Mexico border on March 9. It would be eight days before she heard from the authorities at the border that they had him in custody.
She received a 10-minute call from him on March 20 after he was taken to the Dallas facility. It was the first time she’s spoken to him since he set foot in the country. She says she repeatedly called the HHS Refugee Settlement Office to ask if they would release it to their family, but they refused and said they had to work on their case. In the meantime, she is ready to provide documents showing that she is his mother and can take him in.
“I don’t understand why they are making it so difficult,” said Ana, who is not identified by her last name to protect her son’s privacy. “I know we are in a pandemic, but maybe I think they are behind schedule, that maybe a lot of people are there.”
Tornillo and Homestead have been harshly criticized by Democrats and child welfare experts, who warned of the possible trauma of detaining thousands of teenagers without proper support.
American Red Cross volunteers serviced the first two HHS emergency sites, a converted oil worker warehouse in Midland, Texas, and the Dallas Convention Center. These volunteers will now be phased out.
The Red Cross and HHS refused for several days to acknowledge that the volunteers had not received FBI fingerprint checks. The Red Cross first said that all of its volunteers had background checks when they joined the group. On Tuesday, the group announced that around 300 volunteers sent to childcare had carried out “refreshing” checks and had not found any new red flags.
HHS spokesman Mark Weber said he could not yet determine which companies or groups will step in. The department asked contractors to submit offers for childcare and transportation in mid-March.
Leecia Welch, an attorney with the nonprofit National Youth Rights Center who oversees treatment of immigrant children, said lawyers are “paying close attention to whether this temporary waiver becomes standard practice.”
“Given the urgency of the current recruitment crisis, families deserve the same flexibility as the for-profit companies that contract the federal government,” she said.
Safety concerns have already been raised with regard to the Midland camp. An official working there noted a lack of new clothes and social workers as teenagers arrived, and state regulators warned last week that the water on site might not be safe, forcing U.S. authorities to give teenage bottles until they could arrange for water deliveries.
Michelle Saenz-Rodriguez, a Dallas-based immigration attorney, described the Dallas Convention Center as barrack-like but “very welcoming.” Visiting the convention center in its early days as a volunteer for Catholic charities, she said cots for more than 2,000 boys were set up in socially distant rows in a ballroom.
After being taken to the construction site by bus, the boys were given clean clothes, a pillow, a blanket and a COVID-19 test, Saenz-Rodriguez said. She saw them sitting at tables together last week, talking and playing card games. Most didn’t understand why they were brought to Dallas or what would happen to them next, she said.
“Your first question is, ‘How long will we be here? What will happen to us ‘”Saenz-Rodriguez said.
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