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.

Just Posted

Figures reveal spike in highway traffic jams between Abbotsford and Langley

Nearly one in 20 westbound vehicles between Abbotsford and Langley clocked at under 60 km/h

Taser takedown in Chilliwack complex after incident gets violent

Male suspect became agitated under questioning and repeatedly punched an officer

Harrison looks to test viability of solar power

Harrison has applied for a grant to see whether solar power is an option for its village buildings

Agassiz man pleads guilty in snake venom death of toddler

Plea comes more than five years after the incident in North Vancouver

Funding uncertain, but Agassiz’s Storytime in the Park will go on, organizer says

The literacy program takes place each summer in Agassiz, Harrison and Seabird Island

VIDEO: Agassiz remembers local officer at grave-marking ceremony

Montague White-Fraser had been buried in the Old Cemetery for 92 years without a headstone

Body, burning truck found near northern B.C. town

RCMP unsure if the two separate discoveries are related

Former Fernie Ghostrider re-signs with Vancouver Canucks

Josh Teves has signed a two-year contract with the NHL team

Couple found dead along northern B.C. highway in double homicide

Woman from the U.S. and man from Australia found dead near Liard Hot Springs

UPDATE: West Kelowna fawn euthanized, not claimed by sanctuary

Gilbert the deer has been euthanized after a suitable home was not found in time

BC Wildfire Service warns wet weather no reason to be complacent

Fire risk currently low for much of B.C. compared to same time over last two years.

Bank of Canada lowers qualifying rate used in mortgage stress tests

Home sales softened last year after the federal government introduced new stress test rules for uninsured mortgages

Most Read