From left, U.S. Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection Chief Carla Provost, Acting Executive Associate Director on Immigration and Customs Enforcement Operations Nathalie R. Asher, Senior Adviser Department of Health and Human Services Scott Lloyd, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Commander Jonathan White and Department of Justice Director of Executive Office for Immigration Review James McHenry are sworn-in Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Nearly 6,000 abuse complaints at U.S. migrant children shelters

The Department of Justice received 1,303 complaints, including 178 allegations of sexual abuse by adult staff

Thousands of accusations of sexual abuse and harassment of migrant children in government-funded shelters were made over the past four years, including scores directed against adult staff members, according to federal data released Tuesday.

The cases include allegations of inappropriate touching, staff members allegedly watching minors while they bathed and showing pornographic videos to minors. Some of the allegations included inappropriate conduct by minors in shelters against other minors, as well as by staff members.

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., released the Health and Human Services Department data during a hearing on the Trump administration’s policy of family separations at the border. The data span both the Obama and Trump administrations. The figures were first reported by Axios.

From October 2014 to July 2018, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a part of Health and Human Services, received 4,556 complaints. The Department of Justice received an additional 1,303 complaints, including 178 allegations of sexual abuse by adult staff.

READ MORE: New migrant caravan sets out from Honduras for U.S.

Health and Human Services officials said the vast majority of allegations weren’t substantiated, and they defended their care of children.

“We share the concern,” said Jonathan White, a Health and Human Services official who was in charge of the effort to reunify children with their parents, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. “Any time a child is abused … is one time too many. We abide fully with the laws this Congress has passed, and we are very proud of our outstanding track record of full compliance including referring every allegation for investigation. The vast majority of investigations prove to be unsubstantiated.”

The Office of Refugee Resettlement manages the care of tens of thousands of migrant children. More than 2,700 children were separated from their parents over the summer at the border, and were placed in shelters. But most of the children in government custody crossed the border alone.

Children are placed in government custody until they can be released to sponsors, usually a parent or close relative, while awaiting immigration proceedings. The shelters are privately run under contracts with the government.

Youth are held for increasingly longer periods of time, currently about two months. As of the first week of February, more than 11,000 migrant toddlers, children and teens were in federal custody as unaccompanied minors, up from about 2,500 detained children three months after Trump took office. Tens of thousands of children cycle through the system each year.

Sexual abuse allegations are reported to federal law enforcement, though it’s not clear whether anyone was charged criminally. In many cases, staff members were suspended and eventually fired.

Deutch said the data were clearly alarming.

READ MORE: Trump backs use of ‘very safe’ tear gas on crowd of migrants

“Together, these documents detail an unsafe environment of sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied minors,” he said.

Health and Human Services officials say all allegations must be reported to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, child protective services and the FBI, and all allegations involving adults to local law enforcement. The department must co-operate with all investigations.

Facilities must provide training to all staff, contractors and volunteers. Background checks are completed on potential employees, and facilities are prohibited from hiring anyone who has engaged in inappropriate sexual behaviour.

Colleen Long, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Victoria drafts revision of plastic bag ban bylaw

The bylaw will need to go to the province for approval

Highlands councillor designs ‘carbon budget’ for CRD municipalities

Budget shows how much carbon left for each municipality to use to meet climate goals

VIDEO: James Bay wolf released into wild of western Vancouver Island

Conservation officers confirm wolf is from Discovery Island

Langford ranks as fastest growing community in B.C.

Westshore community grew by 5.2 per cent in 2019 compared to 2018

Central Saanich’s Keating Elementary completes seismic upgrades

Sidney Elementary and North Saanich’s Deep Cove Elementary still waiting for seismic upgrades

VIDEO: Driver guilty in Saanich crash that left 11-year-old with catastrophic brain injuries

North Saanich woman convicted on one count of dangerous driving causing bodily harm

Taxi association asks B.C. Supreme Court to stop Uber, Lyft from operating

Petition alleges Passenger Transportation Board did not take taxis into account

Majority of Canadian boards had no female members in 2016 and 2017: StatCan

Statistics Canada says 18.1 per cent of director seats were held by women in 2017

Swapping grape varieties can help winemakers adapt to climate change: UBC study

Report says 56% of wine-grape-growing regions would be lost if global climate warms by 2 C

Alberta premier wants feds to approve Teck mine for benefit of First Nations

Kenney: ‘Surely [reconciliation] means saying yes to economic development for First Nations people’

Filming for Resident Alien begins in Ladysmith

Aliens and excitement take over the streets of Ladysmith during new TV series

NDP suggests easing secondary housing rules for B.C. farmland

Lana Popham proposes guest homes not just for relatives

Most Read