SAN ANTONIO – The average length of stay for an immigrant child in a U.S. shelter is 35 days, but the average length of stay at the Lackland shelter is only seven days.
Case workers are pulling 12 hour shifts, overwhelmed with the task of finding safe housing for the unaccompanied minors staying at the shelter.
"It's frustrating because case managers are working extremely hard to try to do the right thing. They're pushing quantity as opposed to quality work," said a shelter insider we'll refer to only as Mike.
Mike explained case workers were originally instructed to do fingerprinting on all potential sponsors, but starting about six weeks ago, in an effort to expedite the process, they were instructed to skip that step for some sponsor applicants whose online background checks came back clean.
"The fingerprint, of course, will have results from class B misdemeanors on up. We're going to get just about every hit. However, on Internet checks all we get is, were there any offenses or crimes committed, but not everything shows up," Mike said.
"I don't think it's ever OK to skip any steps in this matter and I hope it's not being done," said Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services Legal Director, Jonathan Ryan.
He worries the kids could end up in the wrong hands if the screening isn't thorough.
"I think, ideally, a full background check would be completed on every sponsor. I think it's important that we know where these children are going and whether they're going to be safe," Ryan said.
Health and Human Services spokesman, Kenneth Wolfe didn't respond to any specific questions, but did email this statement:
"Our office reverted to a previous policy revision (dated April 4, 2014) so we may further review the new fingerprint policy in light of exponential growth in referrals since April 30, 2014. The April 4 policy exempts parents and legal guardians from fingerprinting only in cases with no assessed risk factors noted. There is no mandatory post-release requirement."
Mark is hoping HHS will go back to fingerprinting all potential sponsors, explaining case workers are the gate keepers who have the opportunity and responsibility to place these vulnerable kids in a safe, secure home, even if only temporarily.