There have been more than 4,500 allegations of sexual abuse committed against unaccompanied minors in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) over the past four years, according to internal agency documents released Tuesday by Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchWar of words escalates in House Lobbying world Ethics watchdog finds 'substantial' evidence Rep. Malinowski failed to disclose stocks MORE (D-Fla.).
In addition, the documents showed more than 1,000 cases were reported to the Department of Justice.
Deutch said the agency provided the documents in response to a request for information from the House Judiciary Committee.
During a committee hearing Tuesday about the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of separating families at the border, Deutch questioned agency officials about the findings.
The policy resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents at the southern border and placed into HHS custody.
“These documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied children,” Deutch said.
“Over the past three years, there have been 154 staff-on-unaccompanied minor, let me repeat that, staff-on-unaccompanied minor allegations of sexual assault. This works out on average to one sexual assault by HHS staff on unaccompanied minor per week," Deutch said.
However, the employees of migrant shelters are not HHS employees. Cdr. Jonathan White of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps angrily told Deutch that none of his staff were ever accused of sexual assault.
According to HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley, every shelter that the agency operates is independently licensed by the state where it is located. HHS contracts with over 100 shelters across the country.
“The safety of minors is our top concern when administering our unaccompanied alien children program. Each of our grantees running standard shelters is licensed by the respective state for child care services. In addition to other rigorous standards put in place by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families, background checks of all facility employees are mandatory,” Oakley said in a statement to The Hill.
The documents show that from October 2014 to July 2018, the HHS Office of Refugee Resettlement received 4,556 complaints, and the Department of Justice received 1,303 complaints. The allegations go back to the Obama administration.
This includes 178 allegations of sexual abuse by adult staff. In many of those cases, the staff member was eventually terminated from his or her position.
“These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and ORR fully understands its responsibility to ensure that each child is treated with the utmost care,” Oakley said. “When any allegations of abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect are made, they are taken seriously and ORR acts swiftly to investigate and respond.”