November 27, 2018 Press Release

HHS Failed to Administer FBI Fingerprint Background Checks at Tent City Housing Thousands of Children

Revelations come as HHS Chief Azar continues pandering to right-wing organizations during speaking tour

11.27.18 – According to a report issued today by the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), almost 2,000 staff working at a tent city run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in Tornillo, Texas did not receive required FBI fingerprint background checks, calling into question whether any of these staff have serious criminal histories.

The report takes HHS to task for ignoring “serious safety and health vulnerabilities” at the Tornillo facility, as many of the staffers who did not receive background checks had the closest and most regular contact with children in ORR custody.

Both the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the group running the facility have offered different excuses for the lack of fingerprinting at the tent city, which is located on federal land and therefore not subject to the same regulations as facilities on state land.  Many investigations of ORR facilities on state land have revealed allegations of serious sexual and physical abuse.  Moreover, Scott Lloyd — who was in charge of ORR when many of the allegations surfaced — bragged about the care being provided at these facilities in a letter in The Washington Post this summer; instead of being held accountable for the conditions, Secretary Azar reassigned Lloyd within the agency last week.

“The hits keep coming for HHS Secretary Azar,” said Mary Alice Carter, Executive Director, Equity Forward.  

“He failed to plan accordingly for the family separation crisis, can’t reunite families ripped apart by the cruel “zero tolerance” policy, and now can’t even provide suitable housing for children in his custody nor ensure their caretakers don’t have criminal histories.  

Today’s news comes as HHS Secretary Alex Azar continues to pander to right-wing organizations at various speaking engagements, including the Federalist Society earlier this month and a scheduled appearance at Liberty University tomorrow.  Liberty University was founded by Jerry Falwell Sr., who infamously blamed the “abortionists, feminists, and the gays” for the attacks of September 11, 2001.

“It is inconceivable that Azar has decided to spend his time pandering to Trump’s right-wing base at a variety of speaking engagements — all while children remain separated from their parents and at risk of abuse,” Carter added.