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 GrassleyGOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending On The Money: Judge upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records | Trump vows to appeal ruling by 'Obama-appointed judge' | Canada, Mexico lift retaliatory tariffs on US | IRS audit rate falls Canada, Mexico lift tariffs on US goods after Trump scraps steel, aluminum levies MORE (R-Iowa) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThis week: Democrats, White House set for infrastructure, budget talks Senate confirms Rosen for No. 2 spot at DOJ Senate confirms controversial 9th Circuit pick without blue slips 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 DeutchHouse ethics panel renews probes into three GOP lawmakers Overnight Energy: Bipartisan climate caucus eyes litmus test for new members| Green groups want freeze on Keystone construction| Bernhardt sworn in as Secretary of Interior Overnight Energy: Bipartisan climate caucus eyes litmus test for new members | Greens want freeze on Keystone construction | Bernhardt sworn in as Interior chief 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.