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Government attempting to bolster staff at migrant shelters, including San Antonio's Freeman intake site

Acknowledging it needs help to whittle down record caseloads, Health and Human Services is seeking extra employees from other agencies to staff migrant facilities.

SAN ANTONIO — As record numbers of unaccompanied children seek a permanent home in the United States, President Joe Biden's administration is taking an extraordinary step to unify the minors with stateside relatives or sponsors. 

The federal government is transferring employees to its Health and Human Services Department to work temporarily as caretakers and case workers for asylum-seeking children housed in emergency shelters. 

The feds are advertising a field program specialist position on its job search website. Only people currently employed by another government agency are eligible to apply, however. 

Interested applicants can come from any agency and do not need special training or experience with migrant children, though the department says it would prefer workers who speak Spanish. 

The Washington Post reports that federal administrators are actively pursuing workers from agencies such as NASA, the FTC and the EPA. 

"I'm afraid that other federal agencies that are scientific... are not going to have the cultural competency and compassion these children need right now," the Immigrant Legal Resource Center's Carolina Canizales said. "We hope that HHS partners with the right groups and not strangers in this area of work." 

The feds say detailees will work in migrant facilities like San Antonio's Freeman Coliseum site for between 30 and 120 days. 

Transferred workers will be responsible for supervising the children, assessing their needs, and interviewing the children to obtain contact information for potential sponsors or relatives. 

"I guess it's good news the government is acknowledging it needs help, but help has been here all along," said Canizales, who coordinates immigration coalition SA Stands. "We asked to be partners so that we could help the process of reunification because we knew it was going to be a lot of work, but we didn't get that."

She says her team of volunteers has been waiting for the feds to process their paperwork for two weeks. Meanwhile, a fresh batch of government workers who do not usually work with migrants or children arrived at the Freeman Wednesday. 

Workers who volunteer to be detailed to migrant care facilities will be paid their same federal salary. 

"You don't need to be promising salaries to people to get help. We have groups on the ground, ready to go. We don't care about incentives. We'll do this on a volunteer basis," she said. "We shouldn't have to fight this hard to be allowed to help."

Since the first migrant children arrived at the Freeman on March 29, 16 boys have been discharged to a sponsor or relative. As of Wednesday, there are currently 1,931 teenage boys housed there. 

Another 217 boys are staying at JBSA-Lackland. None from that facility have been reunified.