Thousands of migrant children have been sexually abused while being detained at U.S. government-run shelters, according to Department of Health and Human Services documents.
The data — which was released Tuesday by Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch during a Judicial Committee hearing on the Trump administration’s child separation policy — shows that more than 1,000 allegations of sexual abuse of unaccompanied minors were reported to the Office of Refugee Resettlement every fiscal year since 2015.
The allegations include rape, sexual assault and harassment, according to the data. The news was first reported by CBS News.
In total, the documents show that 4,556 sexual abuse complaints were reported to the resettlement agency between October 2014 and July 2018; 1,303 complaints were also filed with the Department of Justice between fiscal years 2015 and 2018. It’s still unclear if any of those complaints are duplicates and how many occurred at the Homestead temporary shelter for unaccompanied minors.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Representatives of the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Department of Justice were not available for comment Friday night.
Very little information was provided as to who the allegations were against. Bit and pieces of very blurred and overly photocopied narratives were provided to Deutch’s office detailing just 56 of the thousands of allegations in 2017 and 2018.
When a Herald reporter asked a Deutch spokesman for better electronic copies, in an email he said “Unfortunately, that’s the issue — these files were delivered to Congress [by Health and Human Services] in hard-copy format, not in quality digital format. We are also barely able to read the files.”
In the fragments of the files that can be deciphered, some cases include instances where young girls were groped on the buttocks and some boys were touched on the groin. One case detailed a late-night worker kissing a girl on the lips. Another case said a girl was raped by her government-issued foster father.
In another case, a minor reported having sex with a staff member at least four times. Other cases involved workers showing minors porn or becoming romantically involved with teens.
In many instances, cases weren’t “substantiated” or investigated. In others, the perpetrators were either reassigned, put on administrative leave, terminated or “reinstated.”
“These HHS documents detail a staggering number of sexual assaults on unaccompanied children in their custody,” Deutch said during Tuesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing. “Together, these documents detail an unsafe environment of sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied minors. ... Clearly this Administration is not equipped to keep these children safe inside their facilities. Congress and the public demand answers and a clearer understanding of how these allegations are being investigated and what is being done to protect these vulnerable children.”
In response, Commander Jonathan D. White of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a branch of Health and Human Services, lashed out at Deutch for mischaracterizing the data.
“Those are not HHS staff in any of those allegations, that statement is false,” White said, emphasizing that he had warned the administration about the potential harm of separating families before Trump’s zero tolerance policy was enacted.
“Best available evidence is that separation of children from parents entails very significant and potential lifelong risks of psychological and physical harm,” White said.
Deutch clarified what he observed in the documents: “I saw thousands of sexual assault cases, if not by HHS staff then by the people that HHS staff oversees. I will make that clarification. It doesn’t make what happened any less horrific.”
He continued: “It was the administration obligated to help keep these kids safe. We failed, and this is just the start of what I believe to be a very important series of questions that this administration must answer.”
The Office of Refugee Resettlement began compiling data on sexual abuse in regards to unaccompanied minors in its custody since October 2014, the entity department said in a memo.
Per its policy, care providers must report allegations of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, inappropriate sexual behavior and retaliation “immediately but no later than four hours after learning of the allegation.”
During the committee hearing Department of Justice, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol leaders were grilled by Democrats who called the policy “immoral” and “inhumane.”
Republicans lamented the “crisis” at the border but said “something must be done.”