Records show that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) received over 4,500 complaints of sexual abuse against incarcerated children, while the Department of Justice received 1,303 sexual abuse complaints versus unaccompanied minors in the four-year period.
The revelation is the latest signal of the violent toll of President Donald Trump’s war on migrants, which has widened a trend that began under President Barack Obama but accelerated under the current administration’s “zero tolerance” migrant incarceration regime.
4,556 children allege that they faced sexual assault while in the custody of the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement, which holds unaccompanied minors in custody if they cross the U.S.-Mexico border alone or are forcibly separated from their parents.
At least 154 of the claims are directly against facility staff, according to Florida Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch, who released the shocking figures.
Speaking to a House Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday, Deutch said:
“These documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied children … These documents tell us that there is a problem with adults, employees of HHS, sexually abusing children.
These documents demonstrate over the past three years there have been 154 staff-on-unaccompanied-minor – let me repeat that, staff-on-unaccompanied-minor – allegations of sexual assault.”
… This works out, on average, to one sexual assault by HHS staff on an unaccompanied minor, per week.”
A large portion of the alleged assaults were also carried out by other minors in custody, casting a grim light on the supervision and care given to looking out for the children’s wellbeing.
Jonathan White, who oversees the custody of migrant children at HHS, responded with incredulity to the congressman’s accusation, deflecting blame to the over 100 local shelters that provide housing and care to children.
Of the complaints against HHS investigated by the agency, 29 percent were forwarded to the Justice Department for further investigation. The DOJ, however, found the majority of the cases to be unfounded.
However, migrant children have long alleged that they face dehumanizing and cruel treatment by U.S. immigration authorities such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as reports of a culture of impunity and absolute lack of disciplinary action in relevant agencies under both the Obama and Trump administrations.
According to a University of Chicago and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report released in May 2015, the watchdog group alone “obtained over 30,000 pages of records related to abuse of children in CBP custody” as well as a “a pattern of intimidation, harassment, physical abuse, refusal of medical services, and improper deportation between 2009 and 2014.”
ICE has also attempted to seek permission from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to wipe out years’ worth of data, including records relating to sexual abuse cases, solitary confinement and in-custody deaths, raising concerns that federal authorities are blocking transparency to shield themselves from scrutiny and hide a potentially massive paper trail of unconstitutional practices and rights abuses of incarcerated migrants.
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