USDA sending 500 volunteers to Mexico border, expected to work 12-hour shifts without training: report

USDA sending 500 volunteers to Mexico border, expected to work 12-hour shifts without training: report

April 30, 2021

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The Department of Agriculture is sending as many as 500 volunteers to the U.S.-Mexico border to help process the thousands of migrants trying to come to the U.S., reports show.

An email from Terry Cosby, acting chief of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, obtained by The Spectator details volunteer opportunities the agency is offering to its more than 100,000 employees to work directly with unaccompanied minors at the border and help pair them with American sponsors.

“These are children in need and government employees now have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of these children, families and communities impacted by this migration,” Cosby wrote in the April 22 email, according to the Spectator. “I urge you to seriously consider answering this call to service to make a difference.”

 A USDA spokesperson confirmed to Fox News that it will be sending 500 employees to the border as part of the volunteer program made possible through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

A photo of a CBP overflow facility for migrants in Donna, Texas. (Office of Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas)

“Those who are accepted to volunteer will work with their supervisors to ensure their duties are assigned to other staff for the duration of the volunteer assignment ensuring continuity of service; some will perform a portion of their duties remotely,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that the USDA expects “no disruption in service” to customers while employees “answer the call to assist with this critical humanitarian effort.”

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Volunteers may work daily shifts of up to 12 hours for as long as three months, according to a FAQ sheet from HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement obtained by The Spectator.

Federal employees without formal training may also conduct interviews with unaccompanied minors — many of whom may be grappling with “traumatic experiences” — to help hasten processing services, which have overwhelmed resources and personnel at the border due to record numbers of migrant encounters.

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“Support personnel should not expect formal, classroom-based training classes up front as the need for help is immediate,” the FAQ states, according to the outlet. “Rather, support personnel can expect a three-step training process: 1) Badging. 2) Orientation and 3) Shift Scheduling.”

Volunteers may conduct as many as 12 interviews per day with children who “have experienced very difficult, sad, or scary things while they were in their home country or on the journey to the United States,” the ORR document says.

Young unaccompanied migrants, from ages 3 to 9, watch television inside a playpen at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, Pool)

“Common traumatic experiences that unaccompanied children report include gang violence, sexual abuse, domestic violence, physical abuse, being separated for a long time from parents, and witnessing the death or suffering of people they love,” the FAQ continues, according to The Spectator.

HHS did not immediately respond to an inquiry from Fox News, and OPM referred Fox News to HHS. Both agencies in a March 25 notice called upon the government’s “exceptional public servants to lend support to this humanitarian effort through this detail opportunity.”

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“[ORR] needs current [f]ederal government civilian employees for up to 120-day deployment details to support ORR at facilities for unaccompanied children,” the notice reads. “Locations currently include facilities along the Southwest U.S. border area, specifically Dallas, San Diego, San Antonio, and Ft Bliss.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection recorded more than 172,300 enforcement encounters in March alone compared to a three-year high of more than 144,000 enforcement encounters in May of 2019, according to a press release. 

Total CPB encounters were up more than 70% year-over-year in March.

The agency has recorded nearly 48,000 unaccompanied minor encounters so far this year. 

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But despite the crisis at the border, the Biden administration shows little sign of having changed its trajectory on migration. Biden has continued to push for immigration reform, including amnesties for illegal immigrants. On interior enforcement, he has picked an ICE nominee who has opposed ICE raids in the past.

However, Biden is likely to face continued heat from the left of the Democratic Party for not having completely ended Title 42 — which is still being applied to some migrant families and single adults and is responsible for the vast majority of migrants encountered at the border being returned.

Fox News’ Adam Shaw contributed to this report.

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