Republican Senator Chuck Grassley and Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein sent a joint letter to the Inspectors General of the Departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security asking for an investigation into press reports that children separated from their parents had been subjected to abuse, including sexual molestation. In the letter, the Senators said that “These allegations of abuse are extremely disturbing and must be addressed.”
In a report Friday, the non-profit news source ProPublica detailed reports of children abused by sexual predators who were working in so-called shelters used to detain adolescents separated from their parents at the border as well as other immigrant detainees. ProPublica obtained police records covering seventy shelters used to detain immigrant children and found documentation of “hundreds of allegations of sexual offenses, fights and missing children.”
The shelters have had problems in the past dating back to 2014, but the mass influx of children into them since March under the new “zero tolerance” policy has exacerbated matters. On any given night, 10,000 immigrant children are detained in the shelters. Lisa Fortuna, director of child and adolescent psychology at Boston Median Center, told ProPublica that “if you are a predator,” the shelters are “a gold mine.” She said that predators have full access to the children, who often have a history of being victimized. These boys and girls are unlikely to report their abusers.
An Associated Press report last month said that children detained in Roanoke, Virginia were beaten while handcuffed and were locked in solitary confinement has also drawn a response from legislators.
Dick Durbin called for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign on Tuesday. Durbin criticized Nielsen for splitting up families and jailing children under inhumane conditions. The attack on refugee children, Durbin said, “shows the extremes this administration will go to, to punish families fleeing horrific gang and sexual violence and seeking refuge in the United States.”
In an expose this week, the New York Times reported that the largest shelter for immigrant children in New York, Cayuga Centers in Harlem, has been a target of criticism for its poor care. The Federal government is looking for Cayuga to hold as many as 900 children, yet local governments that had used Cayuga for foster care programs had severed ties with the agency in recent years over concerns about the safety of children under its supervision.
Homeland Security head Nielsen is a protégé of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who himself headed the department during the first five months of the Trump administration. Although she has been under fire since her confirmation hearing and had been a target of abuse by Donald Trump, she is unlikely to be forced out before Kelly leaves.