Federal Watchdogs to Investigate Immigrant Child Housing Facilities, Family Separations

Two federal watchdogs have launched investigations into the government’s handling of unaccompanied migrant children, including those separated from their parents at the border.

The inspector general for the agency that’s housing the thousands of immigrant minors, the Department of Health and Human Services, announced the review on Wednesday, saying it’s preparing to devote a lot of resources to reviewing the shelters nationwide.

Also Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office confirmed it would be conducting an investigation into the handling of children separated from their parents.

In a letter responding to a request to do so by New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone, the GAO said the investigation will examine how HHS and the Department of Homeland Security are tracking immigrant minors in their care and any of their parents also in the system.

The moves come amid intense scrutiny over the administration’s handling of its immigration policy that resulted in thousands of families being separated at the border — and as it struggles to answer questions about how those families will be put back together.

As of this week, HHS was caring for roughly 11,800 unaccompanied immigrant children, about 80% of whom had arrived at the US border by themselves.

But 2,047 of the children are in HHS care because they were separated from their parents at the border under President Donald Trump’s now-reversed policy to prosecute all parents caught crossing the border illegally.

According to an update posted on the “work plan” website of the inspector general for HHS, the agency’s watchdog will review the entire program for the children, and what happens when the number of children in its care suddenly goes up. The migrant children’s program is run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement under HHS.

The report, expected to come this year, “will review ORR’s efforts to ensure the safety and health of children placed at ORR facilities, especially when the program experiences a sudden increase in the number of children placed in its care,” the notice said. “Specifically, this review will focus on a variety of safety- and health-related issues such as employee background screening, employees’ clinical skills and training, identification and response to incidents of harm, and facility security.”

CNN review of the shelters’ history even before the administration’s separations found dozens of accounts of overloaded and secretive shelters, treatment centers and secure detention facilities for undocumented minors, which at their worst have allegedly been home to neglect, assault and other horrific abuse.

The inspector general’s office “will deploy multidisciplinary teams of evaluators, auditors, investigators, and lawyers on site visits to ORR facilities nationwide,” the notice said.

Tesia Williams, a spokeswoman for the HHS Office of the Inspector General, confirmed the goal was to finish the report this year.

The HHS IG move comes after more than 120 House Democrats, led by Rep. Lou Correa of California, wrote last week to the Homeland Security and HHS inspectors general asking for an investigation into the policy that resulted in the family separations.

Correa’s office said Wednesday that HHS told its staff to expect a formal response within two weeks that would lay out any steps forward.

More than three dozen Democrats in the Senate sent a similar letter to the HHS inspector general Wednesday.