Thousands of migrant children held at different facilities at the U.S Southern border are saying they were sexually abused while living in the government-administered shelters.
According to federal records released Tuesday, in the past four years, 4,556 children said immigrant children who arrived at the southern U.S. border without their parents have reported being sexually abused while in government custody.
Allegations go back to 2015, meaning the reported assaults started under the Obama administration. But the allegations have increased in the past two years after the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that led to at least 2,800 family separations flooding the shelters with additional children.
The data from the Department of Health and Human Services was made public by Ted Deutch, the US Rep. for Florida’s 22nd congressional district, before a congressional hearing on the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families.
As NPR’s John Burnett reported,
The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is in charge of caring for under-age immigrants, received more than 4,500 allegations of sexual abuse and sexual harassment between 2015 and 2018. The reporting begins under the Obama administration. Of those complaints, some 1,300 were serious enough to refer to the FBI, but an official says ‘the vast majority’ proved to be unfounded.
Most of the assault allegations involved one minor abusing another. But 178 of the complaints were against staff at the shelters — in particular, youth-care workers who escort the children everywhere they go. The complaints range from inappropriate romantic relationships between children and adults, to touching genitals, to watching children shower.
In a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee, Deutch said the government’s 135 migrant shelters are “an unsafe environment.”
“Together these documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assault by staff on unaccompanied children.”