HHS-Run Immigrant Youth Shelters Are Rampant With Abuse, Report Finds

Illustration for article titled HHS-Run Immigrant Youth Shelters Are Rampant With Abuse, Report Finds
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ProPublica has released a haunting report detailing the rampant abuse and lack of oversight at government-contracted immigrant youth centers, a situation that one child psychiatrist has called a “gold mine” for predators.


“If you’re a predator, it’s a gold mine,” Lisa Fortuna, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Medical Center, told ProPublica about conditions at immigrant youth centers run by the Department of Health and Human Services’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. “You have full access and then you have kids that have already had this history of being victimized.”

ProPublica reviewed police reports and call logs from more than two-thirds of DHS-run immigrant youth shelters across the country, and found “hundreds of allegations of sexual offenses, fights and missing children.”

Here are some of the accounts of staff sexually abusing teenagers:

Just five days after he reached the United States, the 15-year-old Honduran boy awoke in his Tucson, Arizona, immigrant shelter one morning in 2015 to find a youth care worker in his room, tickling his chest and stomach.

When he asked the man, who was 46, what he was doing, the man left. But he returned two more times, rubbing the teen’s penis through his clothing and then trying to reach under his boxers. “I know what you want, I can give you anything you need,” said the worker, who was later convicted of molestation.

In 2017, a 17-year-old from Honduras was recovering from surgery at the shelter when he woke up to find a male staff member standing by his bed. “You have it very big,” the man said, referring to the teen’s penis. Days later, that same employee brushed the teen with his hand while he was playing video games. When the staff member approached him again, the boy locked himself in a bathroom.

While many of the incidences date back to the Obama administration, immigrant advocates say that new policy pressure from the Trump administration could further burden centers and create more confusion about how to handle reports and investigations.

The Trump administration forcibly separated more than 2,000 children from their parents and has failed to reunite hundreds of them by the court-ordered deadline. As the administration carries through its “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting adult undocumented immigrants crossing the border, more families will be detained indefinitely in facilities meant for temporary stays. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has insisted that the children in these facilities are in good care, but this report suggests otherwise.


Read the full report here.

Prachi Gupta is a senior reporter at Jezebel.



Kids don’t belong in orphanages unless there is literally no other option. Period. These shelters are orphanages for children who are mostly NOT orphans, and they are essentially hidden from the public view.

99% of the employees can be lovely, well trained staff who care about the kids, but all it takes is that 1 person who is abusive to harm dozens if not hundreds of children. On top of that, you have youth within institutional settings who will abuse other youth, and it is essentially impossible to provide 24/7 supervision of every kid in these places. This is why so many of these places have draconian rules about touching and interactions between opposite sex youth.

Add all of this that to the trauma inherent in being separated from your family and placed in an institution.

Plus, this type of care is insanely expensive. It’s better for everyone involved if the kids are released to their kin, or if that isn’t possible are placed in a foster care setting, rather than sitting around in an orphanage. Only youth who exhibit severe mental health and/or behavioral challenges (with evidence that these are displayed outside of an institutional environment, ie: the child isn’t reacting to being institutionalized) should be in an institutional setting, and it should always he a clinical environment with highly trained staff and low ratios.