Sunday, May 19, 2024

According to documents, HHS received 4,500 complaints of sexual abuse against unaccompanied minors

The Department of Health and Human Services received more than 4,500 complaints of sexual abuse against unaccompanied minors from 2014-2018, according to internal agency documents released Tuesday by Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch.

“I am deeply concerned with documents that have been turned over by HHS that record a high number of sexual assaults on unaccompanied children in the custody of the Office of Refugee and Resettlement,” Deutch said. “Together, these documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied children.”

In addition,1,303 complaints were reported to the Justice Department during that same time frame, according to the documents. Deutch addressed the documents during a high-profile House hearing Tuesday on the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that resulted in thousands of immigrant children being separated from their parents.

Jonathan Hayes, acting director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, accused Deutch of lying in a statement. “His knowing mischaracterization of the data — and his impugning of the ORR federal staff — was an immoral and indecent insult to all of the career civil servants who are dedicated to ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of the children in the unaccompanied alien children (UAC) program,” Hayes added. “We request that he apologize to these career civil servants for his untoward and unfounded comments.”

Hayes said the vast majority of the incidents were between unaccompanied minors. He said there were 178 incidents of alleged sexual abuse involving facility-staff-on-minor misconduct in the last four years, but those staffers were not federal employees.

HHS spokesperson Caitlin Oakley addressed the reports in a statement, saying minors’ safety is a “top concern,” and noted that there are “rigorous standards” in place for employees, which include mandatory background checks. “These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and ORR fully understands its responsibility to ensure that each child is treated with the utmost care.

When any allegations of abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect are made, they are taken seriously and ORR acts swiftly to investigate and respond,” Oakley said.