Feinstein, Grassley call for investigation into minor sexual abuse at HHS facilities

Feinstein, Grassley call for investigation into minor sexual abuse at HHS facilities
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Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyFalling investment revives attacks against Trump's tax cuts Overnight Health Care: CDC links vitamin E oil to vaping illnesses | White House calls Pelosi drug price plan 'unworkable' | Dem offers bill for state-based 'Medicare for All' White House says Pelosi plan to lower drug prices 'unworkable' MORE (R-Iowa) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinHarris shares video addressing staffers the night Trump was elected: 'This is some s---' Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Senate talks on stalled Violence Against Women Act reauthorization unravel MORE (D-Calif.) are calling on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) inspector general to investigate reports of rampant sexual abuse against children in government facilities at the southern border. 

"We respectfully request that you open an investigation into the alleged widespread and long-term pattern of sexual abuse against unaccompanied children in HHS facilities and reports that these cases of sexual assault are not being appropriately investigated," the senators wrote in a letter to Inspector General Daniel Levinson.  

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"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 added.

HHS "is currently reviewing the correspondence referenced," a spokesperson for the agency said in a statement to The Hill on Wednesday.

"The safety of minors is always our top concern when administering our unaccompanied alien children program," the HHS spokesperson added.

Internal HHS documents released last week by Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchOvernight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Bipartisan House members call on Trump to rescind Erdoğan invitation Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows by six members MORE (D-Fla.) show that there have been more than 4,500 allegations of sexual abuse committed against unaccompanied minors, including more than 1,000 that were reported to the Department of Justice.

“These documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied children,” Deutch said.

Acting Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Director Jonathan Hayes argued in a statement that Deutch "mischaracterized" the data.

"Because ORR care facilities diligently track all allegations of a wide range of sexually inappropriate conduct, ranging from name calling or use of vulgar language to more serious claims, the data given to Congress by our agency reflects allegations much broader than ‘sexual abuse’ ... to also include ‘sexual harassment’ ... and ‘inappropriate sexual behavior,’" Hayes said. 

The letter from Grassley and Feinstein follows up on a request the pair sent to the inspector general in July asking for an inspection into allegations of abuse at HHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities. They said in their February letter that they were told after their initial inquiry that the inspector general was looking into health and safety issues, but that they did not receive the findings of that investigation.

"We find it intolerable and inexcusable that child care operators are not immediately investigating reports, contacting and fully assisting law enforcement, preserving evidence, and demanding justice for these children," they said in the letter. "We ask that you immediately open an investigation that gathers and considers evidence of sexual assault and violence, including police reports, in all HHS facilities for unaccompanied children."

Updated at 1 p.m.