Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

'Shocking' Report Reveals Thousands of Migrant Children Have Been Sexually Abused While in US Custody

"The horrifying conditions these children face is a human rights emergency that won't be solved with a wall."

Julia Conley, staff writer

The Tornillo facility, a shelter for children of detained migrants, in Tornillo, Texas, U.S., is seen in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, obtained by Reuters June 25, 2018. (Photo: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Handout)

A House hearing on the Trump administration's family separation policy on Tuesday revealed that thousands of children in U.S. custody over the past five years have been subjected to sexual abuse in migrant detention centers.

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) released documents from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) showing that more than 4,500 complaints of sexual abuse against minors were filed between 2014 and 2018. More than 1,300 complaints were referred to the Department of Justice.

"I am deeply concerned with documents that have been turned over by HHS that record a high number of sexual assaults on unaccompanied children in the custody of the Office of Refugee and Resettlement," Deutch said. "Together, these documents detail an environment of systemic sexual assaults by staff on unaccompanied children."

Immigrant rights advocates decried the revelations. Among them was Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) who wrote on social media that the report details "taxpayer-funded abuses of migrant refugee children."

Of the complaints that were received by the DOJ—during both the Trump administration, whose immigration policies have provoked international outrage and numerous accusations of human rights abuses, but also the Obama administration—178 involved an adult staff member abusing a minor. More than 800 involved other unaccompanied minors perpetrating the abuse.

Complaints regarding HHS employees and federal contractors who were hired to run detention centers involved molestation, statutory rape, and adults who showed pornographic material to children in their care.

Jonathan White, who manages the care of unaccompanied minors by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) at HHS, appeared taken aback when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) suggested that even "if every allegation against a U.S. official is true," young migrants are more likely to be abused while traveling to the U.S. than after they are placed in detention by the government.

"That's not the point," White said. "We don't set ourselves the standard of just doing better than smugglers and traffickers."

The reports of sexual abuse are only the latest evidence of serious abuse inside the walls of the nation's immigrant detention centers. Last year, a lawsuit alleged that children at Shiloh Treatment Center in Manvel, Texas had been given powerful psychotropic drugs and forced injections without the consent of their parents. State investigators in Virginia also found that minors had been beaten, handcuffed, and placed in solitary confinement at Shenendoah Valley Juvenile Center.

"Migrant youth are being sexually abused by the Deportation Force," tweeted Cristina Jimenez, co-founder of United We Dream. "This is not normal! Why would any member of Congress or person of conscience support increasing funds and enabling this agency?"


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
We need your help.

Support progressive journalism.

Common Dreams is not your average news site. We don't survive on clicks or advertising dollars. We rely entirely on your support. And without it, our independent progressive journalism simply wouldn’t exist. Every gift of every amount matters.

Join the fight and support our common dreams today.

NYC Mayoral Candidate Eric Adams Rebuked for 'Dangerous' 400-Students-to-1-Teacher Theory

"Defunding schools to the point that we have a 400:1 student-to-teacher ratio so we can bankroll another huge expansion in an already-multibillion dollar police budget," said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, "is how you build a school-to-prison pipeline."

Jon Queally, staff writer ·


Lack of Patent Waiver Would Add Over $70 Billion to Cost of Vaccinating World: Oxfam

Most of that money, said a spokesperson for the group, "will go directly into the pockets" of Big Pharma shareholders.

Jon Queally, staff writer ·


Darnella Frazier Receives Pulitzer Special Citation 'for Courageously Recording the Murder of George Floyd'

"Without Darnella, Derek Chauvin never would have been tried and George Floyd would have been blamed by the state for his own death."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


'We Are Sounding the Alarm': Global Left Warns Right-Wing Fujimori Trying to Steal Election in Peru

"Fujimori’s only way forward to victory is simple: annul tens of thousands of already tallied votes," warned Progressive International. "Powerful forces are organizing to deliver this outcome."

Andrea Germanos, staff writer ·


'Climate Denial Masquerading as Bipartisanship': Progressives Reject Latest Infrastructure Compromise

"Refusing to act on climate means selling out future generations. The future of our planet and the health of our communities are non-negotiable."

Jake Johnson, staff writer ·