Grassley, Feinstein to IG: Investigate Immigrant Detention After Reports of Abuse

Authorities move immigrant children into a van from a youth holding facility to an undisclosed location July 10, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

WASHINGTON — The top lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked inspectors general in Monday letter to investigate allegations of sexual, physical and emotional abuse at immigrant holding facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Filings in ongoing lawsuits against the Trump administration over its detention policy include accounts from children and adults whose descriptions allege a lack of clean water or food, poor living conditions, forced sleep deprivation, physical assaults, lack of medical care and more.

The letter from Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calf.) to Department of Homeland Security Deputy Inspector General John Kelly and HHS Inspector General Daniel Levinson notes that “although many of these allegations date back to 2014 and 2015, and some even further, reviewing past claims could help prevent future problems by ensuring migrants currently placed in facilities are protected against all forms of physical, emotional, and sexual assault.”

“These allegations demonstrate a long-term pattern of abuse warranting a thorough investigation into the claims, including the process and procedure by which any guards or contracted staff are hired, trained, and vetted,” they added.

The lawmakers cited a July 17 New York Times report in which a 19-year-old asylum seeker said that in 2015 a guard at a detention facility forced sexual acts upon her because she “didn’t know how to refuse because he told me I was going to be deported.” At an Arizona facility for illegal immigrant minors, a worker was convicted of sexually abusing a 15-year-old boy. ICE has reported 1,310 claims of sexual abuse against detainees from 2013 to 2017.

“Similarly, recent press reports have also revealed allegations of abuse of children in HHS-contracted facilities. One report describes a Virginia juvenile detention center where immigrant children were routinely handcuffed, placed in solitary confinement, and left ‘nude and shivering’ in concrete cells,” the letter continues. “Worse still, lawsuits filed by immigrant children indicate that at least some forms of abuse at this facility had been occurring since 2016, with no clear action taken by either the grantee or HHS to end these practices.”

“These allegations of abuse are extremely disturbing and must be addressed. This is not a partisan issue as reporting suggests many have been occurring for years,” Grassley and Feinstein added. “Immigrant families and children kept in federal custody deserve to be treated with basic human dignity and respect and should never be subjected to these forms of abuse.”

They asked that the IGs “immediately” begin an investigation into “the adequacy of policies and procedures ICE and HHS have put in place to prevent and deter the abuse of detainees and children placed at its facilities.”