At local shelters, allegations of migrant child sexual abuse
At the local Baptist Child and Family Services shelter for migrant children, a staff member gave pages from a pornographic magazine to a child in January 2016.
It was reported to the government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, or ORR, and the Department of Justice.
The unidentified staff member was investigated and fired.
That was one of 23 allegations of sexual abuse against migrant children between 2014 and 2018 reported to the DOJ by BCFS facilities. St. Peter-St. Joseph Children’s Home, a Catholic Charities shelter on San Antonio’s South Side also contracted by the ORR, reported five allegations during the same period.
Federal data made public by Florida Congressman Ted Deutch revealed more than 4,000 allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment at ORR facilities across the country over the four years. A second document shows an additional 1,303 allegations that were considered more serious cases of sexual abuse were reported to the Department of Justice.
Descriptions of the incidents, and the outcome of the subsequent investigations, were documented for fewer than 100 of the sex-abuse allegations. Since the end of 2016, the documentation, removed details of the allegations and only lists the dates, the care provider(s), and whether or not the allegation was also reported to the FBI.
Only eight of the incidents that occurred in San Antonio facilities were described in detail because they occurred before the end of 2016.
None of the sexual-abuse allegations were made against federal employees, according to a Health and Human Services statement, though 178 were made against staff at the facilities. The majority of the accused were other unaccompanied minors.
“With the number of allegations each year roughly breaking down to one sexual assault per week for the last three years, clearly this Administration is not equipped to keep these children safe inside their facilities,” Deutch said in a statement. “Congress and the public demand answers.”
Jonathan Hayes, acting director of the ORR, said Deutch’s “mischaracterization of the data — and his impugning of the ORR federal staff — was an immoral and indecent insult” to ORR employees.
HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said employees must adhere to “rigorous standards.” The ORR is part of the Health and Human Services Department.
“These are vulnerable children in difficult circumstances, and ORR fully understands its responsibility to ensure that each child is treated with the utmost care. When any allegations of abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect are made, they are taken seriously and ORR acts swiftly to investigate and respond,” Oakley said.
Between fiscal years 2015 to 2018, the most allegations were reported in 2018, at 1,261.
Last July, St. PJ’s housed 22 migrant children under 17 who were separated from their parents at the border. They were housing a total of 82 children at the time.
In December, the Office of Inspector General, the government’s internal watchdog, found that BCFS did not fully comply with federal health and safety requirements. It said BCFS failed to properly account for 13.7 percent of the children released to sponsors, or 501 children, which threw into question whether BCFS had implemented the proper background checks, care and notifications to other government departments as required.
“I can understand how there are cases of sex abuse,” said Sister Norma Pimentel, director of the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley who rose to prominence during the height of migrant family separations last summer.
She said during her tour of Casa Padre, a Southwest Key Programs facility that houses children in a former Brownsville Walmart, she raised questions about their practice of putting older unaccompanied minors with younger ones.
“They didn’t have an answer. So because of that I can see how so many cases of abuse have been happening,” she said.
“I think they try their best to address everything and protect the children as best they can. It’s very organized and they have cameras,” Pimentel said. “But somebody who wants to do something bad to children — there’s room for that.”
Silvia Foster-Frau covers immigration news in the San Antonio, Bexar County and South Texas area. Read her on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | email@example.com | Twitter: @SilviaElenaFF