Unaccompanied minors in custody at U.S. immigrant detention centers are at serious risk of being sexually assaulted, according to newly released documents.
Documents from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) show that more than 1,300 complaints were submitted to the agency regarding immigrant detention staff allegedly assaulting children who were by themselves dating back to 2015. Rep. Ted Deutsch (D-Florida) released the documents Tuesday prior to a committee hearing about the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border.
“[O]ver the past three years, there have been 154 staff on unaccompanied minor — let me repeat that — staff on unaccompanied minor allegations of sexual assault,” Deutsch said. “This works out on average to one sexual assault by HHS staff on unaccompanied minor per week.”
While many of the 1,300+ complaints of sexual assault at immigrant detention centers were between detainees, approximately 178 complaints accused detention center staff of sexual assault on unaccompanied children. USA Today reports that 4,556 children said they were assaulted while being held in U.S. custody. The disparity between those numbers is explained by HHS only sending 29 percent of those complaints (1,303) to the Department of Justice for further review.
The Trump administration’s child separation policy officially ended in July of 2018, though, as Grit Post has previously reported, at least 100 more children were separated from their parents after the “zero tolerance” policy supposedly came to an end. However, between May and July of 2018, when the policy was in full effect, reports of immigrant detention center staff allegedly sexually assaulting minors skyrocketed:
Part of the reason alleged sexual assault was so rampant at the dozens of immigrant detention centers managed by HHS could be attributed to the fact that at least one facility’s staff were not required to undergo an FBI background check. In November of 2018, it was reported that the Trump administration official in charge of the “tent city” camp for undocumented children in Tornillo, Texas allowed workers to be exempt from FBI background checks. The potential for child abusers to work at that facility was particularly high, as there were as much as 2,000 staff working there.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.