DALLAS — Eighteen-year-old Josec describes his experience in the care of the U.S. government as ugly, tear-inducing suffering. He says he's sharing his story for other kids who are not as strong.
Josec is from Honduras. He spent two months, April and May, at Fort Bliss, a U.S. Army Military base in El Paso where tents have been set up to temporarily house unaccompanied migrant children.
He agreed to speak to the KENS 5 and the News8 team if we changed his name and hid his face.
“One month, I didn’t know anything about my mom or anybody,” Josec said in Spanish. “They didn’t have the things necessary for us. Sometimes we wouldn’t shower for one or two weeks. There were no bathrooms for showers, no clothes, nothing. We were there with what we arrived in.”
Filthy conditions, lack of basic necessities like underwear and unvetted staff working with children are just a few failures described in a whistleblower complaint sent this summer to Congress and government watchdogs about Fort Bliss. CBSNews published an article about the complaint on July 28.
Josec spent two months there, while waiting to be reunited with his sponsor in north Texas, his dad’s brother.
“There were kids in there that suffered,” he said. “They would even ask for something and the people wouldn’t give it to them. One of those things was going to the restroom. When you would go to the restroom, you had to get in a line of about 160 people. It was an immense line that moved very slowly. It’s like that all day and all night.”
Josec said he was 17 when he and his dad left their family to come to the U.S.-Mexico border in Brownsville. They made the trip together, but Josec said he crossed alone.
“With his age and my age, since I was older, we wouldn’t qualify (to stay), so we would both get returned,” Josec said. “So he decided to go back.”
Josec said he crossed alone in Brownsville and, in late March, arrived at Fort Bliss in El Paso. He said the staff often made kids cry because of how they were treated.
“We would be in our beds and they would obligate us to go to sleep,” Josec said. “ If you didn’t go to sleep, (they said), ‘We’re going to report you.’ They would write something about your behavior and they would tell us that they were going to give us more time. We were scared of that.”
Josec described one conversation with an employee, after she’d taken his pillow away for unknown to him reasons, while he was asleep.
“I told a lady once with utmost respect, she would say that she didn’t like being with us because we were gang members. I told her, ‘Do you have kids? How would you feel if they were in here and you didn’t know anything about them?’”
Nonprofit Every.Last.One. helped Josec get out of Fort Bliss and be reunited with his uncle right before his 18th birthday. If he’d turned 18 in federal custody, he would have been transferred to an ICE holding facility where the federal government holds adults.
Josec is now with his uncle in north Texas. He said he’s working to help his family back in Honduras. One of his dreams is to help pay for his little sister’s medical school education.
He said in two hours in the U.S. he’s making what he’d earn in one hour in Honduras. He misses home and his family.
“When you’re over there, you want to come here,” Josec said. “When you’re here, you want to go back over there. You miss your mother’s and fathers’ love.”
KENS 5 reached out to the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is responsible for facilities such as Fort Bliss, operates under ACF.
We asked for comment regarding the treatment Josec outlined. We also asked for the number of children currently being held at Fort Bliss, as well as if the allegations of conditions and child treatment outlined in previous news stories and the report sent to Congress were addressed. We have not heard back.
Lourdes Vazquez at WFAA, NEWS8 in Dallas, and Jose Sanchez in the Rio Grande Valley contributed to this report.