Biden administration asks for volunteers to deploy to the border, suspends FBI checks on facility caregivers

Are you looking for a volunteer opportunity? The Biden administration just may have something for you. A call has been put out for volunteers to deploy to the southern border. If you are a government employee in a federal agency, Joe Biden can use your help.

“Volunteer deployments” for up to 120 days are being implemented, according to a memo sent by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to heads of government agencies. Help is needed with the growing crisis of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Personnel on the ground are overwhelmed and the numbers continue to grow.

“We are actively working to screen, process and deploy these volunteers while continuing our recruitment efforts and exploration of other avenues to bolster staff resources at the border,” an OPM spokesperson said.

Kathleen McGettigan, acting director of OPM, said the federal agency is partnering with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to support the Biden administration’s “urgent efforts” to care for the unaccompanied migrant children who have crossed into the U.S. through the southern border.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. The memo states that the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within HHS needs additional help at the border at facilities for unaccompanied minors for up to 120 days. The facilities include those in Dallas, San Diego, San Antonio, and Fort Bliss. More locations will be added.

“ORR provides a continuum of care for children, including placements in ORR foster care, shelter, and residential care providers that provide temporary housing and other services to unaccompanied children in ORR custody,” McGettigan said. “ORR and its care providers work to ensure that children are released timely and safely from ORR custody to parents, other family members, or other adults … who can care for the child’s physical and mental well-being.

This plea for help comes at a time when photos are emerging from the facilities. They are overcrowded and lacking in the ability to properly house so many children at one time, especially during a pandemic. I assume the federal volunteers will have already been vaccinated before deploying to the border. As of the end of last week, more than 16,000 unaccompanied children were in government custody. Many are in facilities described as “substandard”.

Senator Lindsey Graham was a member of a delegation of senators who toured the border at the Rio Grande River last week and also the holding facility for unaccompanied minors in Donna, Texas. He said the chaos on the border isn’t just a crisis, it is “a complete loss of sovereignty down there.” If the Biden administration doesn’t get the southern border under control, we will likely see as many as 150,000 a month by this summer.

In its rush to expand its network of emergency shelters and staff them, the Biden administration is waiving FBI fingerprint background checks on caregivers at its facilities. As this decision begins to make news, child welfare experts are voicing concern that this waiver will compromise the safety of the children. In March alone, eight new facilities across the Southwest have opened. More than 15,000 new beds have been added with the expansion that has doubled the existing system.

Emergency shelters don’t have to be licensed by state authorities. They don’t have to provide the same services as permanent HHS facilities. The cost is also much higher to shelter a child at these facilities – about $775 per day.

Staff and volunteers directly caring for children at new emergency sites don’t have to undergo FBI fingerprint checks, which use criminal databases not accessible to the public and can overcome someone changing their name or using a false identity.

HHS issued a statement Friday saying that direct care staff and volunteers “must pass public record criminal background checks.” Public records checks generally take less time but are reliant on the subject providing correct information.

The agency says those giving direct care are supervised by federal employees or others who have passed fingerprint-based background checks. “In the Emergency Intake Sites, HHS is implementing the standards of care used for children in an emergency response setting,” the agency said.

Using federal employees who have previously been fingerprint-based tested may ease some concerns from child welfare experts. Other federal employees will supervise volunteers. During the Trump administration, reporting was critical of the lack of FBI fingerprint checks at some large facilities, like the one set up in Tornillo, Texas. In another large facility in Homestead, Florida, caregivers were not given routine screenings to rule out allegations of child abuse or neglect. During the Trump administration when volunteers were used at facilities, HHS’s inspector general warned that FBI fingerprint checks “provide a unique safeguard” over most commercial background checks that search a person’s name.”

“While the various background checks could identify some past criminal convictions or sexual offenses, these checks were not as extensive as the FBI fingerprint background checks,” the inspector general found.

Laura Nodolf, the district attorney in Midland, Texas, where HHS opened an emergency site this month, said that without fingerprint checks, “we truly do not know who the individual is who is providing direct care.”

“That’s placing the children under care of HHS in the path, potentially, of a sex offender,” Nodolf said. “They are putting these children in a position of becoming potential victims.”

During the Trump administration, the big facilities at Homestead and Tornillo were criticized by Democrats and child welfare experts. They warned about the potential trauma of detaining thousands of teenagers without adequate support. Now, large facilities are also being used, many even larger than during the Trump administration.

The Biden administration is busy trying to convince critics that theirs is a humane administration, unlike the previous one, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has turned into Baghdad Bob in presenting the facts as Team Biden sees them. If the press decides to question the administration’s decisions, which is unlikely, Team Biden will have to figure out some new talking points.