The Justice Department has revealed that more than 4,500 complaints have been received by the federal government about sexual abuse of immigrant children, who were being detained in government-funded detention centers. Those complaints were made over the past four years, but the largest amounts of complaints come from the time period that Donald Trump has been in office and his policy of separating families was in place.
The records show that these complaints involve children who were separated from their families as well as children who entered the country alone. The records also show detailed allegations that adult staff members at the detention centers harassed and sexually assaulted children, including kissing and fondling minors, showing pornographic videos to minors, watching them shower and raping them.
“The safety of minors is our top concern when administering the UAC program,” Jonathan H. Hayes, the acting director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, said in a statement. “None of the allegations involved O.R.R. federal staff. These allegations were all fully investigated and remedial action was taken where appropriate.”
The records, however, lack the details of the outcomes for the complaints. Though it is specified that some allegations were deemed unfounded or lacking evidence, however, some cases were found to have sufficient evidence. In the Chicago detention center, a staff member was accused of fondling and kissing a child. He was later charged with a crime, but the report does not state the outcome of the case.
The documents on the sexual abuse complaints were first reported by Axios and were made public by Representative Ted Deutch of Florida.
The Trump administration’s policy of family separations at the southern border has resulted in more than 2,700 children being separated from their families. The Trump administration also lost thousands of children and are clueless as to how to reunite many of the children with their families because records were not properly kept.
“For most of the four years covered by the report, the number of allegations made to the Office of Refugee Resettlement stayed about the same from month to month. But the number of complaints rose after the Trump administration enacted its separation policy. From March 2018 to July 2018, the agency received 859 complaints, the largest number of reports during any five-month span in the previous four years. Of those, 342 allegations were referred to the Justice Department, the report showed” reports the New York Times.
“This behavior — it’s despicable, it’s disgusting, and this is just the start of questions that HHS is going to have to answer about how they handle these and what’s happening in these facilities,” Deutch said.
HHS’ spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley responded to the complaints as follows:
“The safety of minors is our top concern when administering our unaccompanied alien children program. Each of our grantees running standard shelters is licensed by the respective state for child care services. In addition to other rigorous standards put in place by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families, background checks of all facility employees are mandatory.”
She adds, “these are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and ORR fully understands its responsibility to ensure that each child is treated with the utmost care. When any allegations of abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect are made, they are taken seriously and ORR acts swiftly to investigate and respond.”
During a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee, Deutch stated that the government’s 135 migrant shelters are “an unsafe environment.”
“Together these documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assault by staff on unaccompanied children,” Deutch said.
Despite the growing numbers of sexual abuse complaints, the agency states that it has “a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and inappropriate sexual behavior at all care provider that house unaccompanied alien children.”
All care providers are required to report all such allegations to state or local authorities within four hours of learning such information.
Heartbreakingly, sexual violence impacts immigrants across federal agencies. Officials are not doing nearly enough to detect and respond to incidents of sexual abuse in immigrant detention centers. The result is that immigrant children are being placed in serious risk of sexual violence while being detained.
Instead of addressing this growing issue the Trump administration continues to aggressively target immigrants and asylum seekers by stripping away legal protections. Children are being sexually assaulted under our watch and our leaders are looking the other way.
“If you’re a predator, it’s a gold mine,” said Lisa Fortuna, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Medical Center. “You have full access and then you have kids that have already had this history of being victimized.”
You can view a detailed document of the sexual assault complaints here.